The Portland Trail Blazers followed up a fine win over the Brooklyn Nets on Sunday with a pretty ugly loss to the New York Knicks on Tuesday. The Blazers were shorthanded for sure (drink), but the 112-84 loss felt kind of icky even when grading on a curve. The road trip can’t end quickly enough for Portland, but before they get home they have to gut it out on Thursday and Friday against two extremely tough opponents. First up is Chet Holmgren, Shai Gilgeous-Alexander and the Oklahoma City Thunder. Not exactly the best team to be facing when you have injury problems at center.
The Oklahoma City Thunder find themselves in second place in the West, not afraid of anyone in the NBA. The schedule makers haven’t been particularly kind to them, as they finished a four game road trip in Miami on Wednesday only to fly back to Oklahoma City to face the Blazers on Thursday. If the Blazers have a chance it might well be on account of some tired legs on the Thunder. On Wednesday the Thunder defeated the Miami Heat by the score of 128-120.
Portland Trail Blazers (10-26) at Oklahoma City Thunder (25-11) - Thursday, Jan. 11 - 5:00 p.m. Pacific
How to watch on TV: Root Sports, NBA League Pass
Trail Blazers injuries: Robert Williams III (out), Moses Brown (out), Deandre Ayton (doubtful), Jabari Walker (questionable)
Thunder injuries: Maxi Kleber (out), Dante Exum (doubtful)
Blazer’s Edge Reader Questions
Seriously, does OKC have too many picks and is there a way this could somehow benefit the blazers? A quick glance suggests that OKC has 11 picks in just the next two summers of which 7 are first round. There is no way way they will take all these players so they have to trade many of those. Perhaps they will bundle a bunch together in a trade for a star, but if that doesn’t work out they may be looking to swap some out for picks further in the future. Portland just happens to have a number of future firsts that are several years out. Would it be beneficial to portland to consider trading any of their future picks for any that OKC has in the next two summers?
It’s really incredible to be this young, this good and have so many assets. Do they have too many picks? At first glance it certainly seems that way, and make no mistake, they are certainly going to examine trade options. Let’s take a look more deeply though. If they don’t want to they don’t have to worry about 2025 or later until, well, 2025 or later. They have 5 picks for 2024, four first rounders and a second. However, the worst of their first round picks goes to Indiana. The Thunder have their own pick and a pick from the Rockets, the Clippers and the Jazz. The Jazz pick is protected 1-10. The Rockets pick is protected 1-4. The Clippers pick is unprotected but will probably be late in the first round. So, add it all up and it’s likely that the Thunder will wind up with three first round picks barring a trade, none of which are likely to be an ultra-appealing lottery pick. Maybe one late lottery pick in a weak draft. Every team, especially a young one, can find room on the roster for a few prospects. Or they could maybe draft a Euro stash or two. All of this to say that I don’t see the Thunder holding a first round pick fire sale any time soon. They’ll look for a deal, but on their terms. If no deal emerges they might look to trade a 2024 pick for a pick farther in the future, but do the Blazers really want another mediocre pick?
How does it feel to have done an absolutely masterful job of rebuilding, and (secondary question) can we have lil bit of that? Just as a treat?
I’m sure it feels amazing. Of course you can’t argue with what Oklahoma City has done as they made some excellent decisions and could have screwed things up at many points along the way. It must be said though that they have been stupendously lucky. They had the right asset at the right time to land Shai Gilgeous-Alexander, they were in the right place at the right time to draft Chet Holmgren and Josh Giddey, and a lot of their low-risk decisions have paid off at a level that surely surprises their own front office. Give the Thunder full marks, but holy cow did lightning strike multiple times. Think back just a year ago. Oklahoma City was dealing with a serious injury to Holmgren and were clearly sweating the possibility of him having an injury-decimated career. There is no telling what the future holds for the Blazers but even pessimists amongst the Blazers faithful have to admit that the club has positioned themselves to have a bunch of chances over the next six years or so to have lighting strike for them, and maybe it already has and we just need some time. At this stage it’s all about having the opportunity to swing for the fences, and the Blazers have given themselves chances to have that opportunity.
What To Watch For
- Shai Gilgeous-Alexander. Shai has consistently been spectacular this season. His monthly averages for point are 26, 32.1, 31.9 and 33.8 so far in January. You have to go back to December 2nd to find a game he’s played in where he scored fewer than 20 points. His field goal percentage is is 54.9% for the season, and so far this month he’s shooting 57.3% from the field and 56.3% from deep. Out of five games in January he’s shot over 60% from the field three times and over 60% from beyond the arc three times. The only question is how did the Thunder manage to lose two of those five games? The answer is that the Thunder are giving up a ton of points lately. If Shai is on his game though, and he almost always is, could you even conceive of the Blazers coming out on top in a shootout?
What Others Are Saying
Joe Lucia on Awful Announcing reports that the Thunder have joined several other teams in moving some games from their regional sports network to local stations.
Per a Tuesday release from the team, eight Friday night games are being moved from Bally Sports Oklahoma City to affiliates owned by Griffin Media, KSBI in Oklahoma City and the News on 6 Now 6.3 subchannel in Tulsa. Games will also air on other affiliates in the region, owned by Gray Television and Morgan Murphy Media.
John Hollinger of The Athletics has a nice review on how the Thunder got here and the decisions they will need to make going forward (subscription required).
Amazingly, the Thunder got here in a much different way from what you might have expected. That surfeit of future draft picks they have as a result of all the trades they made dismantling the Westbrook-Paul George core? They’ve only factored into this current roster at one point, when a 2022 pick from the Clippers landed them Jalen Williams. Otherwise, the Thunder selected Chet Holmgren, Josh Giddey and Cason Wallace essentially with their own picks (Wallace after trading up by taking on a contract) and stole Lu Dort and Isaiah Joe off the scrap heap.
And of course, they got Shai Gilgeous-Alexander in the trade that started the whole rebuild, the deal with the Clippers for George.
It’s time to raise expectations for the Thunder according to Brandonscobey on Last Word on Sports.
Oklahoma City, which has the second-youngest roster in the NBA, has emerged as a contender, following a 16-win improvement last season from 2020-21 to go 40-42. The Thunder own the league’s fourth-best record, ranking third in net rating (8.1), sixth in defensive rating (111.3), and fifth in offensive rating (119.5). Overall, they have exceeded expectations, and it’s time to raise ours.