Tip-Off: 7 PM CST
Location: Chesapeake Energy Arena (Oklahoma City, OK)
Radio: The Sports Animal
Twitter: Follow @TheThunderGuys for live-tweets during the game
Player to Watch
PG Damian Lillard led the way for the Blazers against the Thunder just last week as he continued his streak of impressive games since returning from the All-Star Break. In a game in which the Thunder led by 7 with just under 6 minutes to play, Lillard scored 33 points, including 7 points in the final 2:49. Lillard has had a pretty solid showing against Oklahoma City this season, averaging 26.3 points, 5.8 assists, 4.3 rebounds, and 1 steal in 3 matchups. Shutting down Lillard should be priority one for the defense tonight, which will be much easier to do if Victor Oladipo is able to return to the floor after missing 7 games due to back spasms.
Keys to the Game
- Play in the Paint: Not much has changed in the last week, and for the second time in three meetings this season, Portland absolutely dominated Oklahoma City in the paint last Thursday, outscoring the Thunder 54-38. Oklahoma City is 2nd in the NBA in points in the paint with 49.5 points per game, while Portland is only 20th as they score 42.2 points in the paint per game, but the Thunder is 29th in points in the paint allowed per game with 48.0, while the Trail Blazers are 10th and allow only 41.9 points in the paint per game. Steven Adams had a game worst -23 while on the floor, while Enes Kanter was +15, so if both Thunder bigs can get on the same page and have solid games, the Thunder will have a much better chance at getting a win at home.
- Smart Shot Selection: Oklahoma City has shot the ball especially poorly lately, and a big part of that has been because Russell Westbrook is not shooting well. If Westbrook struggles to knock down shots, the Thunder offense has a tendency to collapse because it relies so heavily on him. Russ needs to trust his teammates and look to get them involved, especially down low. If the Thunder can space the floor and move the ball, quality shot attempts will open up, and the offense will be able to play more efficiently.
- Protect Home Court: The Thunder is currently on a 3-game losing streak and has lost 7 consecutive games on the road, but they have done a solid job winning at home this season with a 23-8 record at the Peake. At this point, Oklahoma City just needs to get a win, and there is no better time than the present. The Thunder has had a number of occasions lately to move up in the Western Conference standings, but they have not capitalized on the opportunities, and it is costing them positioning for the playoffs. It would be a bit dramatic to say tonight’s game is a must-win, but a win sure would be nice.
Article written by Zack Low. Follow @TheThunderGuys on Twitter and Instagram.