Tip-Off: 9:30 PM CST
Location: Moda Center (Portland, Oregon)
Radio: The Sports Animal
Twitter: Follow @TheThunderGuys for live-tweets during the game
Player to Watch
PG Damian Lillard has been on a tear in Portland’s three games since the All-Star Break, despite the Trail Blazers dropping two of them. For the season, Lillard is averaging 26.0 points while shooting 43.8% from the field, 35.4% from three, 89.8% from the free throw line, to go along with 5.8 assists and 5.0 rebounds per game. Through the last three games, however, he is putting up 31.7 points while shooting 51.5% from the field, 50.0% from three, and 82.4% from the free throw line to go along with 6.3 assists and 7.3 rebounds. In the matchup between these two teams in Oklahoma City, which the Thunder won 105-99, Lillard was the leading scorer for the Trail Blazers as he scored 29 points on 9/22 (40.9%) from the field, including 4/9 (44.4%) from three, and 7/7 (100%) from the free throw line. He also added 7 rebounds and 3 assists. Lillard has evolved into one of the better point guards in the league, so Russell Westbrook will need to step up his defense and prevent Lillard from putting up big numbers.
Keys to the Game
- Prioritize Paint Play: In the first two meetings between these two teams, scoring in the paint has been a crucial part of the battle to win the game. Portland won the first matchup in December as they outscored Oklahoma City 54-38 in the paint, but the Thunder won just a few weeks ago as they outscored the Trail Blazers 54-42 down low. Oklahoma City is 2nd in the NBA in points in the paint with 49.6 points per game, while Portland is only 21st as they score 41.9 points in the paint per game. Alternatively, the Thunder is 29th in points in the paint allowed per game with 47.8, while the Trail Blazers are 10th and allow only 42.0 points in the paint per game. Steven Adams has not been playing particularly well lately, but Enes Kanter has played well since his return, so if the Thunder can look to get the ball inside, the Thunder bigs could have a big night.
- Fuel the Fast Break: Another sign of success in the first two matchups between the Thunder and the Trail Blazers has been the ability for the winner to get out and score in transition. When the Trail Blazers defeated the Thunder in Portland, they outscored Oklahoma City 17-8 in fast break points. When the Thunder defeated the Trail Blazers in Oklahoma City, they outscored Portland 23-5 in transition. Oklahoma City is fantastic in transition both on offense (3rd in NBA with 17.1 fast break points per game) and defense (5th in the NBA with 11.4 fast break points allowed per game), while Portland struggles on offense (22nd in the NBA with 11.6 fast break points per game) and is average on defense (13th in the NBA with 13.1 fast break points allowed per game). Russell Westbrook loves to get out and run in transition (or anywhere for that matter), so if he can push the tempo for Oklahoma City, the Thunder should be able to find success in transition.
- Take Wise Shots: Oklahoma City is not a particularly good shooting team, but the Thunder is notorious for not just shooting poorly but taking bad shots. For example, last night in the 4th quarter, Russell Westbrook checked in around 8-minute mark with a 13-point lead, but he proceeded to take a number of bad shots, which allowed Utah to take a brief lead. He ended up making some big plays, which ultimately fueled the Thunder to a win, but poor shot selection has been the cause of many Thunder losses this season.
Article written by Zack Low. Follow @TheThunderGuys on Twitter and Instagram.