Team Records: Oklahoma City (28-8) at Portland (20-16)
Game Info: 6 p.m., TV on CSNNW, Radio on 1190 AM and 102.3 FM.
Vegas Line: OKC -5
Refs: Bennett Salvatore, Brian Forte, Leroy Richardson
The Skinny: The Blazers look to bounce back from a loss in Golden State Friday night as they take on the West leading Thunder in OKC’s first visit to Portland this season. The loss Friday was only Portland’s second of the calendar year. OKC comes into this game fresh off a relatively easy win over the hapless Lakers and have won four of their last five, dropping only a shocker to the Wizards (which Blazers fans can certainly relate to).
Last time they met: OKC took control early and didn’t look back, cruising to a 14-point win in a game that wasn’t nearly as close as the score indicated.
Projected Thunder Lineup:
PF: Serge Ibaka (Congo, 4th season) – 14.3 PPG, 8.4 RPG, .4 APG
SF: Kevin Durant (Texas, 6th season) – 28.5 PPG, 7.8 RPG, 4.3 APG
C: Kendrick Perkins (Clifton J. Ozen (HS), 10th season) – 4.3 PPG, 5.7 RPG, 1.4 APG
SG: Thabo Sefolosha (Switzerland, 7th season) – 7.5 PPG, 4 RPG, 1.7 APG
PG: Russell Westbrook (UCLA, 5th season) – 21.9 PPG, 5.2 RPG, 8.5 APG
Player to Watch: Kendrick Perkins (pictured at right) – Perkins is not, and probably never will be, the best player on any team he is on at this level, but he is arguably one of the most important. Perkins is best known as a very strong post defender with a mean streak who seemingly takes every basket scored on him as a personal affront. He sets very tough screens on offense, sometimes too tough, causing him to commit more than his share of offensive fouls. His offense is limited, but he is smart enough to only take shots he feels confident making close to the basket. Finally, he plays with passion at all times and gets into it with refs or other players on a fairly regular basis. If he can keep those emotions in check, he is a very good post defender if nothing else.
Did You Know?: The Thunder are 14-0 this season when 5 or more players hit double figures.
Song of the Day: “The Farmer and the Cowman” from the Musical Oklahoma!, as a tribute to the on again, off again, supposed turmoil between Westbrook and Durant, this song talks about how vastly different groups of people should be friends. Enjoy:
Portland: Out – SG Elliott Williams (Achillies), C Meyers Leonard (Ankle).
Re-Evaluating OKC: The Keys to a Successful Offense
OKC has become one of the most efficient offensive teams in the league. The secret to this success is threefold. First, they shoot 27.1 FTs a game, tops in the league, and shoot them better than any other team in the league. Second, they shoot and make just enough 3 pointers to keep opposing defenses honest, making nearly 40% of their 19 attempts per game. Third, they have plenty of players that can create their own shot. They are in the bottom half of the league in assists but make up for it in creating and taking good shots. Its not an easy formula to stop and few have indeed done so effectively this season.
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.