The Portland Trail Blazers followed up home wins against the Brooklyn Nets and the Indiana Pacers with a pretty uninspiring 134-110 road loss to the Los Angels Lakers on Sunday. The road trip doesn’t get any easier with a visit to the Oklahoma City Thunder next up on the schedule. You remember the Thunder, right? The Blazers have played them twice and lost by 43 the first time and 62 the second. That team.
The Thunder are in the in the midst of a stretch of seven out of eight games on the road, with the only home game being the matchup against the Blazers. On Saturday Oklahoma City played the Western Conference-leading Minnesota Timberwolves in Minneapolis and somehow came away with a 102-97 victory in a game that could be described as “gritty” or “ugly” depending on your perspective. The Thunder will appreciate the short break at home before hitting the road again for another three games. DraftKings has the Thunder as 14 point favorites as of this writing. Would you be brave enough to take the Blazers and the points?
Portland Trail Blazers (12-30) at Oklahoma City Thunder (29-13) - Tuesday, Jan. 23 - 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), Shaedon Sharpe (out)
Thunder injuries: None
Blazer’s Edge Reader Questions
When playing the leagues best PG, and MVP candidate, what can Scoot hope to achieve or learn?
They are on the literal opposite sides of the spectrum among starting PG’s.
How to hold your head high after a bad game? Seriously though if Scoot starts it’s a brutal assignment for him that he’s simply not ready for. How not ready? When these two teams played on January 11th, Scoot shot 19% from the field, 11.1% from deep, and eked out two assists. In 31 minutes. His counterpart Shai Gilgeous-Alexander shot 73.3% from the field. Eeek.
Development isn’t an exact science. Some players can’t handle being out-classed and need to be given easier assignments until they master things at a lower level. Others need to get smacked around for a while to really understand what it takes to compete at the highest level. The jury is still out with Scoot. It certainly appears that he has the mentality to handle being dominated in the odd game, but who really knows? Regardless, development can only really be measured with the benefit of hindsight. If Scoot goes out there and plays better than he did on the 11th, then hey, that’s something to build on. At this stage you can’t really ask for more than that.
For a rebuild, the goal is improvement. Give us some hope, here, how likely is it that the blazers will improve on their last performance against OKC?
There’s a practical reason why they will probably improve on their last performance against OKC: it’s simply boggles the mind to imagine another performance that bad. On a more tangible level, having Deandre Ayton and Jabari Walker available this time has to be worth something, right? Right? Throw me a bone here.
OKC has become one of the richest teams in terms of young talent and future picks. Portland should be so lucky. What chance does Portland have to build or acquire assets needed to compete with up and coming asset rich squads like OKC and SA? What moves will allow us to close some of that disparity?
It’s tough. Oklahoma City had the right players to trade at the right time. The Blazers had Dame and a roster full of bloated salaries. Reasonable people can disagree on whether the Blazers could have extracted more for Dame and from earlier trades, but the point is that the Thunder’s assets that they traded away were more desirable and numerous than the assets the Blazers have had. Portland will certainly try to collect more picks and would love to trade for a young player with star potential, but those opportunities aren’t guaranteed to be there. Setting the bar at Oklahoma City is almost certainly unattainable. The Thunder caught lightening in a bottle What the Blazers can do, and in fact have already started to do, is collect lottery tickets. What could a Bucks pick or even a Bucks pick swap be worth when it comes due? What might the ceiling be of a certain 19 year old and a certain 20 year old who are already on the team? Could the Blazer’s snag a future hall-of-famer in a widely panned draft? There is just so much luck involved. All we can do is wait an see.
What Others Are Saying
Joe Mussatto of The Oklahoman looks at the schedule and some statistics and likes what he sees for the Thunder.
The Thunder has the second-easiest remaining strength of schedule among Western Conference teams, per Basketball Reference. Making the race more interesting is the fact that first-place Minnesota is the only team with an easier remaining schedule.
The underlying numbers back OKC, though.
In the event that the Blazers can find a way to hang with the Thunder it probably wouldn’t matter in the end for reasons articulated by Ross Lovelace of Inside the Thunder.
When clutch time hits, Oklahoma City has been one of the best teams in the NBA. Whether it’s mounting comebacks or finishing off good teams down the stretch, this team is finding ways to get it done. Between Jalen Williams and Shai Gilgeous-Alexander, Oklahoma City has developed a terrifying closing-time duo that excels with the game on the line.
You’re well aware of Shai. Chet is inevitable. Nick Crain of Forbes say that you shouldn’t sleep on Jalen Williams.
With that in mind, this team wouldn’t be playing as well as it has without the contributions of second-year player Jalen Williams. A rising star in this league, he finished second in NBA Rookie of the Year voting in the 2022-23 campaign but has taken a tremendous leap in production this season. He has emerged as a complimentary star that looks like he can be a top three player on a championship team in the next year or two.