Team Records: Portland (22-7) at Oklahoma City (13-15)
Game Info: 5 p.m., TV on CSNNW, Radio on 620 AM
Vegas Line: OKC -6
Refs: Sean Corbin, David Guthrie, Haywoode Workman
The Skinny: The Blazers look to bounce back from Monday’s defeat as they close out their tough road trip in OKC. OKC has gotten off to a very rough start to the year with key injuries to Durant and Westbrook taking their toll. OKC has won eight of their last ten, although they have lost two of three and are perhaps without Durant again as a right ankle sprain he suffered in Friday’s defeat to the Warriors may still keep him sidelined.
Last Time They Met: OKC kept it close for three quarters but in the end their thin bench did them in as Portland broke the game open early in the fourth to win 106-89. Westbrook tallied 38 for OKC while LMA led Portland with 27 points in the win.
Projected Thunder Lineup:
PF: Serge Ibaka (Congo, 6th Season) – 14.1 PPG, 6.9 RPG, 1 APG
SF: Perry Jones (Baylor, 3rd Season) – 7.9 PPG, 2.5 RPG, .6 APG
C: Steven Adams (Pittsburgh, 2nd Season) – 7.7 PPG, 7.1 RPG, .8 APG
SG: Andre Roberson (Colorado, 2nd Season) – 4.6 PPG, 5.3 RPG, 1.5 APG
PG: Russell Westbrook (UCLA, 7th season) – 27.4 PPG, 5.5 RPG, 7.2 APG
Player to Watch: Russell Westbrook (pictured at right) – Let Westbrook be Westbrook indeed. This star PG might have taken a few years to get going but now that he has few can stop him. Westbrook might be the second-most talked about player on the Thunder but he has certainly proven that he can lead a team to victory just like Durant can. Westbrook has really stepped up his already top-level game this season, seeing substantial improvements across almost every statistical category. Westbrook is playing smarter on offense, doing a better job at drawing fouls and shooting less 3s (which is good since he is not a great outside shooter). Westbrook can still be prone to turnovers and his defense comes and goes but those are relatively minor criticisms for a player that, already established as a star, has managed to step up his game to another level this year.
Did You Know?: OKC is 9-3 since Westbrook’s return from injury.
Song of the Day: “We’ll Meet Again” from the Colbert Report finale. Long live Colbert Nation. Enjoy:
Portland: Out – C Robin Lopez (Hand), Questionable-PF LaMarcus Aldridge (Illness)
OKC: Out- C Mitch McGary (Tibia), Questionable-SF Kevin Durant (Ankle),
Re-Evaluating OKC: You Have to Take Your Chances
When Kevin Durant and co walked through the falling confetti down in Miami during the NBA Finals a few years ago as the Heat celebrated their championship, there were few out there that thought that was the last time that the young talented OKC squad would be playing for a title. Yet, it has been and it might well be for chances in sports are never guaranteed. Winning a title is not easy and although being a young talented team might, in theory, give you more chances, it doesn’t mean that you’ll actually get them. Whether it was the failed Harden trade, OKC’s unwillingness to spend big to win a title, Scott Brooks not being a title-level coach or injuries, many things can derail a team’s quest for a title. Although OKC is, baring further major injuries, likely to make the playoffs this year, their road will be very hard and you can’t assume they’ll get through it successfully. So if it won’t happen this year, when will it happen? Perhaps never and maybe OKC will end up joining the list of best teams to never win a title, which is not something anyone wants to be on.
The Bottom Line:
Portland wins if: They make someone other than Westbrook beat them. Westbrook is going to score a lot of points tomorrow and that’s fine. If the Blazers can limit the lesser players OKC has, they should be able to win this.
Oklahoma City wins if: They hold Portland under 95 points. Assuming Durant indeed doesn’t play, even if LMA doesn’t either, OKC is unlikely to be able to keep up with Portland’s offense if the Blazers post close to their usual offensive output. If they can hold Portland under 95 points, they certainly should be able to have a shot at winning.