Team Records: Oklahoma City (58-21) at Portland (33-45)
Game Info: 7 p.m., TV on CSNNW, Radio on 1190 AM and 102.3 FM.
Vegas Line: OKC -9.5
Refs: Danny Crawford, Eli Roe, Eddie F Rush
The Skinny: The Blazers look to bounce back from a hard fought loss to the Lakers and avoid a winless five game homestand against the West-leading Thunder. OKC holds a very narrow lead over the Spurs for the top seed in the Western Conference and is coming off an impressive road win over the Warriors Thursday night.
Last time they met: The Blazers held on until a late OKC run buried them in a game that was a lot closer than the final score.
Projected Thunder Lineup:
PF: Serge Ibaka (Congo, 4th season) – 13.3 PPG, 7.9 RPG, .6 APG
SF: Kevin Durant (Texas, 6th season) – 28.4 PPG, 7.9 RPG, 4.5 APG
C: Kendrick Perkins (Clifton J. Ozen (HS), 10th season) – 4.4 PPG, 6.1 RPG, 1.5 APG
SG: Thabo Sefolosha (Switzerland, 7th season) – 7.6 PPG, 4 RPG, 1.6 APG
PG: Russell Westbrook (UCLA, 5th season) – 23.3 PPG, 5.2 RPG, 7.5 APG
Player to Watch: Thabo Sefolosha (pictured at right) – On a lineup filled with four solid players, it is often easy to forget Thabo is OKC’s fifth starter. A defensive specialist, Thabo is an excellent one on one defender and is often put on the opponent’s best guard on that end of the court. Thabo is also a very good rebounder but that is where his strengths end. His offensive instincts aren’t great and he is a horribly inconsistent outside shooter. Still, he is something else Portland must reckon with Friday.
Did You Know?: OKC has a point differential of 9.2 points per game, only six teams have ever done better over the course of a season and all six won the NBA title.
Song of the Day: “Get Down with the Sickness” by Distributed. In honor of all of our injuries, this seemed strangely appropriate. Enjoy:
Portland: Out – SG Elliott Williams (Achillies), Questionable-SF Nicolas Batum (Shoulder), C JJ Hickson (Back), SG Wesley Matthews (Ankle), PF LaMarcus Aldridge (Illness).
Re-Evaluating OKC: Can They Win it All?
OKC fell just one step short of their ultimate goal last season, falling in the NBA finals to a Miami Heat team that was simply better than they were. A year later, the question is whether they can take that final step this year. They surely can but will they? Probably not. Miami really is that much better than everyone else in the NBA this year and if they are healthy, it is hard to see the Heat losing four games out of seven to anyone, even this team. All this assumes of course that OKC makes it that far, no sure thing with the deep western conference playoff field.
The Bottom Line:
Portland wins if: They hold Westbrook/Durant to under 50 combined points. This is not going to be easy, but when OKC’s dynamic duo was held under the 50 point mark last season, they were beatable. If Portland is to beat OKC, they will have to make someone besides OKC’s two best players do it.
Oklahoma City wins if: They shoot at least 30 free throws. The Thunder excel at getting to the line and making their FTs once they get there (almost everyone on the team except Perkins is a great FT shooter) and when they manage 30 attempts a game, they nearly always prevail.