Portland Trail Blazers (32-41) vs. Oklahoma City Thunder (36-38)
Still mathematically within play-in contention, the Portland Trail Blazers take on the Oklahoma City Thunder in a crucial Western Conference matchup at the Moda Center this afternoon.
If the last month has taught the NBA world anything, it’s that anything can happen this season. Coming out of the All-Star break, the Dallas Mavericks were a top-five seed in the West. Now, they’ve nosedived to the No. 11 seed. The New Orleans Pelicans have shared a similar reversal of fortune.
Conversely, the Los Angeles Lakers were as low as the No. 13 seed and have since risen to the No. 8 spot, all the while liking their chances in a potential first-round playoff series against the conference-leading Denver Nuggets in the process.
The Blazers sit 3.5 games out of the No. 10 and final play-in spot with nine games left to play. The current occupant just so happens to be the Thunder. Oklahoma City is 14-23 on the road while Portland is 17-19 at home. That may not hold much weight as four Blazers starters will sit today and Portland will likely need a monster performance from rookie Shaedon Sharpe to make this weird NBA season get weirder.
Oklahoma City Thunder vs. Portland Trail Blazers - Sunday, March 26 - 4:00 p.m. PT
How to Watch: Root Sports Plus, NBA League Pass
Blazers Injuries: Damian Lillard (out), Jerami Grant (out), Anfernee Simons (out), Jusuf Nurkic (out), Justise Winslow (out), Ibou Badji (out)
Thunder Injuries: Kenrich Williams (out), Chet Holmgren (out)
SBN Affiliate: Welcome to Loud City
What to Watch For:
- Step Up. All eyes will be on the Blazers’ supporting cast to produce. They'll have ample opportunity to show their stuff. Sharpe, Nassir Little and Cam Reddish will be asked to carry the lion’s share of the scoring load. All but one of Little’s 12 double-figure scoring games have come when he attempts at least six field goals. Since being in Portland, Reddish has scored in double figures whenever he’s attempted 10 or more shots from the floor. And Sharpe led all Portland scorers with 24 points on 20 shots Friday night against Chicago. He was the clear first option and likely will be again today. Elsewhere on the roster, can Ryan Arcidiacono make a last bid to prolong his NBA career and be a playmaking point guard behind Lillard? Is Jabari Walker the back up big of the future? Where does Keon Johnson stand with the franchise moving forward? All three players and more will have all the time in the world to produce against the Thunder.
- Don’t Underestimate OKC. The Thunder may be the No. 10 seed in the West, but that doesn’t mean they don’t perform satisfactory on a nightly basis. OKC is No. 12 in the NBA in rebounding (43.7 RPG), No. 6 in fewest turnovers (12.7 TPG) and No. 4 in steals (8.2 SPG). The Thunder limit second-chance possessions, deprive opponents of transition opportunities and create the same for themselves in abundance. Both teams will have fresh, youthful legs to battle against one another. But the Thunder pack a punch that Blazers head coach Chauncey Billups will have to instruct his players to tuck their chin for if they don’t want to get knocked out.
- Containing Shai. Gilgeous-Alexander has been a one-man wrecking crew for the entire year. His 31.3 points per game on 51 percent shooting from the floor places him among the elite scorers in the Association. We won’t get to see Lillard match him on the offensive end, but Portland will have to game plan to stop the University of Kentucky product. OKC only has one other player — Josh Giddey — averaging over 15 points per game (16.3 PPG). Their offense is spread rather thin. A heavy emphasis must be placed on trapping the 2023 All-Star and forcing him to give up the ball the same way Portland did so and held Luka Doncic to 15 points in its Jan. 14 loss to the Dallas Mavericks. Or similar to how Portland shut down MVP candidate Nikola Jokic to nine points on 3-4 shooting against the Denver Nuggets on Oct. 24. Those performances mark the second-lowest scoring outputs of the season for Doncic and Jokic. The Blazers need to follow the same recipe today and make somebody other than Gilgeous-Alexander beat them.
What Others are Saying
- Callie Lawson-Freeman of Yahoo Sports reported on Lillard potentially being shut down for the remainder of the regular season:
The reported consideration for Lillard’s health seems smart. He missed a significant amount of last season with an abdominal injury he sustained in December which needed surgery. This season, he was able to miss minimal games after sustaining a calf injury in late October.
That considered, the No. 13 spot in the Western Conference doesn’t seem like a strong enough starting point to potentially risk any more complications for an unlikely playoff push.
- Jacob Dazzeo of Fansided gave his take on current Blazers players who may call a new city home next season, saying this about Little:
There are a few reasons why Nassir Little may not be with the Trail Blazers next season. If the Blazers retain Cam Reddish and Matisse Thybulle with qualifying offers, Little’s role on the team may be redundant. Although a young player with potential, Little may not have the same level of established skill as Reddish and Thybulle, making him more expendable on a crowded roster.
Additionally, Little’s team-friendly contract could make him an attractive asset in trade discussions for a star player. The Blazers would need Reddish or Thybulle to agree to a trade if they sign their QO’s, but they wouldn’t need Little’s input.
Ultimately, while Little has shown flashes of potential, the Blazers may prioritize using him to acquire a player who fits better with Dame’s timeline.