Team Records: Portland (24-7) at Oklahoma City (25-5
Game Info: 5 p.m., TV on KGW/NBATV, Radio on 620 AM
Vegas Line: OKC -5.5
Refs: Joe Crawford, Karl Lane, Leon Wood
The Skinny: The Blazers look to avoid their first three-game losing streak of the year as they face the red-hot Thunder in a New Year’s Eve showdown. OKC has been nearly unbeatable at home this year, although their one home loss was to the Raptors of all teams. The Thunder are facing life without star PG Russell Westbrook, who is out until at least the all-star break with another knee injury.
Last Time They Met: Aldridge put the Blazers on his back late as he delivered one of the best games of his career in a thrilling victory over the Thunder. Aldridge scored 38 points (26 of which came in the second half) and pulled down 13 rebounds in the win.
Projected Thunder Lineup:
PF: Serge Ibaka (Congo, 5th season) – 14.1 PPG, 8.9 RPG, 1 APG
SF: Kevin Durant (Texas, 7th season) – 28.5 PPG, 8.3 RPG, 4.8 APG
C: Kendrick Perkins (Clifton J. Ozen (HS), 11th season) – 2.8 PPG, 4 RPG, 1.2 APG
SG: Thabo Sefolosha (Switzerland, 8th season) – 6.6 PPG, 4 RPG, 1.5 APG
PG: Reggie Jackson (Boston College, 3rd season) – 12.6 PPG, 3.8 RPG, 3.6 APG
Player to Watch: Reggie Jackson (pictured at right) – If OKC is to remain afloat during Westbrook’s latest injury-related absence, they will need a capable point guard and sorry, but Fisher won’t cut it. Thankfully for OKC, Reggie Jackson has proven to be a more than capable player and although not at Westbrook’s level, he is going to slide nicely into the starting lineup. Jackson is a capable shooter from deep has been on a tear as of late, shooting well from 3 the past several games. If there is a criticism of his offense, it is that he doesn’t pass the ball well or often, but if you’re shooting as well as he is, why bother? Jackson will be key if the Thunder are to remain near the top of the west the next few months.
Did You Know?: This is the sixth straight year OKC has played a home game on New Year’s Eve. OKC is 5-0 in such games, although Portland is about the toughest opponent OKC has faced in any of these New Year’s Eve games.
Song of the Day: “Auld Lang Syne”. A traditional New Year’s song, happy New Year everyone from all of us at PWE! Enjoy:
Portland: Out – PG CJ McCollum (Foot)
OKC: Out – PG Russell Westbrook (Knee)
Re-Evaluating OKC: Championship Chances are Never Guaranteed
When Miami was busy celebrating their win over the Thunder in the 2012 NBA Finals, it may have seemed to many NBA observers that this loss would just be another bump in the road for a young team that would inevitably consistently make and win the NBA Finals several times over the following years. Yet, when Westbrook went down in OKC’s first round series against Houston last year, it revealed one of the greatest truisms of sports: There is no guarantee you will ever get a second chance to win it all and injuries are the kryptonite that can fell any team’s title hopes. Portland fans know this all too well as the 1977-78 Blazers appeared to the best team in the league and were favorites to repeat as champions before injuries decimated the roster and the team washed out in their first playoff series. OKC may well get, and win, another NBA Finals shot but just because you are young and talented is no guarantee they will.
The Bottom Line:
Portland wins if: Stop OKC’s secondary scorers. OKC without Westbrook is still a dangerous team but Durant alone cannot win them games. If Portland can stop, say Jackson, Lamb and Ibaka, they should win Tuesday.
Oklahoma City wins if: They hold Portland under 100 points. If Portland is forced to play a defensive game, they become much more vulnerable. If OKC can hold Portland under 100, they should prevail.