Team Records: Portland (1-0) at Oklahoma City (0-1)
Game Info: 5 p.m., TV on CSNNW, Radio on 1190 AM and 102.3 FM.
Vegas Line: OKC -9
Refs: James Capers, Pat Fraher, John Goble.
The Skinny: The Blazers look to build off an impressive season opening win over the Lakers as they look to be facing a much more daunting challenge at the home of the defending western conference champions. OKC pulled off a shocking trade late last week when it sent sixth man extraordinaire (and bearded wonder) James Harden to Houston in exchange for Kevin Martin, rookie Jeremy Lamb and a few first round picks. The Thunder will look to prove they have not taken a step back as a result of this trade Friday night.
Last season: OKC won the season series 3-1 for the second straight year.
Projected Thunder Lineup (2011-12 season averages):
PF: Serge Ibaka (Congo, 4th season) – 9.1 PPG, 7.5 RPG, .4 APG
SF: Kevin Durant (Texas, 6th season) – 28 PPG, 8 RPG, 3.5 APG
C: Kendrick Perkins (Clifton J. Ozen (HS), 10th season) – 5.1 PPG, 6.6 RPG, 1.2 APG
SG: Thabo Sefolosha (Switzerland, 7th season) – 4.8 PPG, 3 RPG, 1.1 APG
PG: Russell Westbrook (UCLA, 5th season) – 23.6 PPG, 4.6 RPG, 5.5 APG
Player to Watch: Serge Ibaka (pictured at right) – I’ll readily admit it, I really like watching Serge Ibaka play basketball. To me, he is the epitome of a player who makes the most of his given talent and plays hard every single game. Serge has come a long way in the past few seasons and is now one of the best interior defenders in the NBA. He leads the league in blocks per 48 minutes and seems to be in the right place in the right time on D. He also boasts an improving outside shot on offense. He still has plenty to work on, especially passing and dribbling, but given his improvement last year, it seems likely he will figure those problems out sooner rather than later.
Did You Know?: Nick Collison was co-winner of Iowa’s Mr. Basketball award his senior season, sharing the award with future Kansas teammate Kirk Hinrich.
Song of the Day: “Sweet Victory” by David Glen Eisley-Just because this song and the Blazers’s first game this year was awesome, this seemed appropriate. Enjoy:
Portland: Out – SG Elliott Williams (Achillies), Questionable- PG Ronnie Price (Ankle).
Oklahoma City’s Game:
Miami, Boston and LA may have their big three (or four in the case of LA), but you would be hard pressed to see them as much better than OKC’s big two of Westbrook and Durant. Although there have been some well publicized incidents suggesting the two may not be as close as once thought, nonetheless, when they are in sync, this duo is amazing to watch. Together, the two were the highest scoring pair of teammates in the league last season. Yet, the Thunder are more than just these two stars. They are a very good defensive team with the trio of Perkins, Ibaka and Sefolosha able to play lockdown defense. On offense, they can struggle at times, especially late at games when Westbrook has a tendency to want to do it all on his own rather than pass to a teammate for a better shot. Still, if they can get their offense rolling, they are very tough to beat.
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 on the road, 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.