- When: Tuesday, 31 December 2013 at 7:00 PM CST
- Where: Chesapeake Energy Arena, Oklahoma City, OK
Division rivalries are always fun because it’s like you are playing against your cousin. All the teams are, for the most part, close geographically and are guaranteed to play each other 4 times in a season. That makes for a sense of notoriety. But when you are the alpha dog in the division, it makes it even more interesting when a division rival comes out of nowhere to threaten your crown. The Oklahoma City Thunder are like Jay-Z and Kanye West. They are on the throne. And everyone else, including Tuesday’s opponent, the Portland Trailblazers, is watching the throne.
This will be the second meeting of the season between these two teams. The Trailblazers won the first game, 111-104, behind a strong 3rd quarter that saw them take an 11 point halftime deficit and convert it into a 3 point lead by the beginning of the 4th quarter. From there it was back and forth, with the Trailblazers coming up with enough stops to win the game. Kevin Durant finished with 33 points and Russell Westbrook had 21, but the two Thunder superstars were eclipsed by a seemingly unstoppable LaMarcus Aldridge, who finished with 38 points and 13 rebounds.
The Trailblazers come into the game with a 24-7 record, and are one of the real surprises in the league. They lead the league in team scoring, at 108.6 points per game, but struggle defensively, giving up an average of 102.6 points per game, good for 26th in the league. Portland came out guns blazing in their first 29 games, going 24-5, but have lost their last 2 games in dramatic fashion on game-winning shots from the opponent. The Portland attack is led by last season’s Rookie of the Year, Damian Lillard, who is joined by Wesley Matthews, who has become a dead-eye 3-point shooter this season. Defensively, Nic Batum is one of the better SF in the league, and also gives the team some pop offensively. LaMarcus Aldridge has seemingly put it all together this season and is having a career year, averaging 23.4 points and 10.9 rebounds per game. And Robin Lopez does a great job of being their garbage man. The bench is good, and with so many shooters (Mo Williams, Dorrell Wright) it can be explosive at times.
Probable Starting Line-Up
- PG – Damian Lillard
- SG – Wesley Matthews
- SF – Nic Batum
- PF – LaMarcus Aldridge
- C – Robin Lopez
Oklahoma City Thunder
- PG – Reggie Jackson
- SG – Thabo Sefolosha
- SF – Kevin Durant
- PF – Serge Ibaka
- C – Kendrick Perkins
3 Keys to the Game
1. Perimeter Defense – The Trailblazers have 5 regular rotation players that shoot over 36% from 3-point territory. With an “inside to outside” offense, Portland is dependent on Aldridge drawing the defense into the paint, allowing the shooters to get open. The Thunder will have to defend Portland in the same fashion it defended Houston two nights back. The perimeter defenders will have to stay on the shooters and not get sucked in.
2. Rebounding – It will be extremely important that the Thunder bigs not allow Portland to gobble up offensive rebounds. In the last game, Lopez and Aldridge combined for 9 offensive rebounds that led to 12 extra points for Portland. Take away half of those, and it’s an entirely different game for the Thunder.
3. Pace – As strange as it seems, the Trailblazers are the more half-courted oriented team between the two. Even though they lead the league in scoring, they work their offense from inside to out with Aldridge being the post presence. If the Thunder can push the pace, with Portland struggling on the defensive end, I could see the Thunder outlasting Portland, especially when they are on the second night of a back to back.