Road trip finale
To call the Oklahoma City Thunder a rival of the Portland Trail Blazers would be overestimating how excited OKC fans get when PDX comes to town. That doesn’t mean, though, that the Blazers can’t get up for this game, as these two teams have established quite a history over the past few seasons.
Matchup: Portland (33-36) @ Oklahoma City (51-19)
Venue: Chesapeake Energy Arena
Time: 4:00 PM PT
Date: Sunday, March 24, 2013
On the current road trip, Portland has gone 2-2—the last two games being wins over playoff opponents. Oklahoma City is on a different level than the Chicago Bulls and the Atlanta Hawks, but the Blazers should have confidence entering Saturday night’s contest.
Game Notes/How They Match Up
You can look at the stats all you want for this game, but you’re only going to see one thing—the Thunder have the advantage in almost every way imaginable.
OKC plays better on both offense and defense, and they have the star power and the depth to compete with Portland every step of the way. One thing you can’t measure, though, is heart, which is something that the Blazers will continue to show the rest of the season.
The biggest difference between Portland now and Portland last season is that the effort is always there. The 2011-12 team was as frustrating a group to watch as most can remember, but this year’s squad refuses to let anything go.
Obviously, the Blazers will need more than heart against the Thunder, but it starts with effort, and that’s something this team has proven it can give night after night.
What to Watch: Portland
The Blazers have been guilty of playing both up and down to their opponents this season. While that’s gotten them in trouble against lesser-quality squads, it has also propelled them to success against some of the league’s best.
Needless to say, OKC qualifies as one of the league’s best, and Portland will have to play with energy and efficiency Saturday night.
LaMarcus Aldridge is going to be the go-to option in this one. He’s been playing incredible basketball as of late in both the scoring and rebounding categories, and he’s averaging 27.5 and 13 against the Thunder this year.
The big man is playing at a level unlike any we’ve seen from him before, and he’s officially made a name for himself as one of the league’s premier forwards.
LaMarcus Aldridge’s 23rd game with 20 points and 10 rebounds ties him for second in the NBA with LeBron James (1st-David Lee, 25).
— Trail Blazers PR (@TrailBlazersPR) March 23, 2013
Aldridge will be matched up up against either Serge Ibaka or Kendrick Perkins. If OKC chooses to put the bigger body on him—Perkins—he will be able to use his quickness both on the block and off the dribble to score. If the team goes with Ibaka, the back-down game is going to be his best friend.
Ibaka is a very good shot blocker, but the truth is that he still needs help in one-on-one situations. Aldridge will be able to take advantage of whichever player is covering him, and there’s no reason he can’t have another good game.
What to Watch: Oklahoma City
The Thunder have depth—or at least more depth than the Blazers—but whenever you face them, you have to watch the superstars, Kevin Durant and Russell Westbrook.
Durant is leading the league in scoring with 28.4 points per game, and Westbrook isn’t too far behind him in sixth averaging 23.3. The two are continually improving how they play together, but any time you can hold Durant to fewer shots than Westbrook, you’re in good shape.
Westbrook is one of the most dynamic point guards in the league today, and he might even be the most athletic player to ever play the position. That being said, he still has to improve his shot selection, and keeping the ball out of Durant’s hands is the best way to force bad plays.
You don’t want either player getting comfortable within OKC’s offense, but if you can take one out of the equation, it makes it easy to contain the rest of the players on the roster when they try and step up.
Damian Lillard isn’t on Russell Westbrook’s level just yet, but it’s no secret that he’d like to be.
Before the 2012 NBA draft, Damian Lillard compared himself to two elite floor generals. Westbrook was one of them—Derrick Rose was the other—and while you can argue that Lillard is already a better decision maker, you can’t argue numbers and pure explosiveness in both half-court and fast-break situations.
Lillard has the better jump shot at this point in their careers, and that will be a huge weapon come Saturday night. Westbrook is an intimidating defender with athleticism alone, which will make it tough for Portland’s point guard to get to the rim—something he’s thrived at in his rookie season.
On the defensive end, Lillard is going to need help with Westbrook. Don’t be surprised if Wesley Matthews takes over the role of stopping Westbrook at some point—or at least brings the double teams. This will be a battle between two incredible playmakers, but if Lillard is struggling, he needs to be smart enough to find Aldridge on the block and let him go to work.
Portland: Doubtful—Victor Claver
Oklahoma City—DAY-TO-DAY—Nick Collison, Hasheem Thabeet
A third consecutive road win would be huge for the Blazers’ playoff chances. Unfortunately, they’re going up against one of the best teams in the league, and it seems unlikely that they get their first win against the Thunder at this point in the season.