Tag Archives: LaMarcus Aldridge

Oklahoma City Thunder at Portland Trailblazers preview (Game 1 of 82)

westbrook lillard thunder trailblazers

  • When: Wednesday, 29 October 2014 at 9:30 PM CST
  • Where: Moda Center, Portland, OR

If there was ever a time for the entire world to go into hibernation for, ohh, I don’t know, maybe 6 weeks, this would be the time. The Oklahoma City Thunder will be strolling into Portland on Wednesday to open the season with 9 healthy players. The Thunder usually have a 10-player rotation in the regular season. They have 9 capable bodies, currently. The injury bug has hit the Thunder hard this preseason with Kevin Durant and Mitch McGary each suffering a broken foot, Anthony Morrow suffering a sprained MCL, Grant Jerrett still recovering from offseason ankle surgery, and Reggie Jackson (ankle) and Jeremy Lamb (back) each suffering injuries in the practice before the road trip. The only saving grace is that none of the injuries appear to be too serious.

The Thunder and Portland Trailblazers split the season series last year 2-2. The Northwest division rivals played four close games, with all of them being decided in the fourth quarter and by single digits. The average margin of victory in each of the contests was 5.5 points.

The Opponent

trailblazers lopez matthews lillard aldridge

The Trailblazer start  their season at home with visions of improving upon the season they had last year. Portland finished 54-28, good for 5th in their West. They defeated the Houston Rockets in 6 games in the first round and lost to the eventual champs in the second round in 5 games. Their entire core is back, and they picked up some veteran free agents for the bench. The only player missing who logged significant minutes last season is Mo Williams, who signed with the Minnesota Timberwolves in the offseason. With such comfort and continuity, look for Portland to once again be one of the top offenses in the league. Damian Lillard and Wesley Matthews are one of the top two-way backcourts in the league. Lillard and power forward LaMarcus Aldridge are quickly becoming one of the best duos in the league. On the perimeter, small forward Nic Batum is their best defender and someone capable of knocking down open jumpers. In the middle, Robin Lopez does a great job of keeping possessions alive with his energy. The bench, which was a weakness last season, has been shored up by veteran free agents Steve Blake and Chris Kaman. CJ McCollum and Thomas Robinson will also play a big role off the bench.

Probable Starting Line-Ups

Portland Trailblazers

  • PG – Damian Lillard
  • SG – Wesley Matthews
  • SF – Nic Batum
  • PF – LaMarcus Aldridge
  • C – Robin Lopez

Oklahoma City Thunder

  • PG – Russell Westbrook
  • SG – Andre Roberson
  • SF – Perry Jones
  • PF – Serge Ibaka
  • C – Steven Adams

3 Keys to the Game

1. Foul Trouble – With only four warm bodies to come off the bench, the Thunder need to be very wary of their fouls. Steven Adams and Kendrick Perkins both have a propensity for picking up quick fouls, and that would be disastrous against a team with skilled bigs like Portland. On the perimeter, the depth is even worse. Sebastian Telfair is the only guard available for the Thunder off the bench.

collison adams aldridge trailblazers thunder

2. Outside shooting – Oklahoma City’s top 3 perimeter shooters (Durant, Morrow, and Jackson) are out. The Trailblazers will be packing the paint, so making outside shots consistently will be necessary to win the game. All eyes will be on Russell Westbrook, which will leave Roberson, Jones, and Ibaka open from the perimeter. They have to knock down shots for the Thunder to even be in contention to win this game.

3. Westbrook – The great unknown. The fun unknown. We’ve always wondered what a team that solely featured Russell Westbrook would look like. Well, the Westbrook experience is taking off and we bought the Fast Pass. Let’s go!

2014-15 NBA Season Preview: Northwest Divison

Northwest Division

1. Oklahoma City Thunder

westbrook ibaka durant jackson jones thunder

Last season: 59-23 (1st in the Northwest Division, 2nd in the Western Conference)

Season ended: Game 6 of the Western Conference Finals against the San Antonio Spurs

Key Additions:

  • Mitch McGary – Draft (No. 21 in the 2014 NBA Draft)
  • Anthony Morrow – Free agent signing
  • Sebastian Telfair – Free agent signing

Key Departures:

  • Thabo Sefolosha – Signed with the Atlanta Hawks
  • Caron Butler – Signed with the Detroit Pistons
  • Derek Fisher – Retired (Head coach of the New York Knicks)
  • Hasheem Thabeet – Traded to the Philadelphia 76ers

Season Preview – After years of relying on internal improvement/development, the Thunder finally threw their hat into the free agency fray. They failed in getting Pau Gasol or Mike Miller to OKC, but did get the deep-range threat they coveted in Anthony Morrow. If healthy, this team is one of the best in the league. Sporting the current MVP and another top 5 players in Westbrook, the Thunder should benefit from their more versatile additions. When it comes to a team like the Thunder, though, its all about May and June. With the team’s shortcomings in the playoffs with such a talented roster, might this be the year that coach Scott Brooks starts to feel the heat?

2014-15 will be successful if: The Thunder win the championship

Projected 2014-15 Record: 61-21

2. Portland Trailblazers

aldridge batum lopez matthews lillard trailblazers

Last season: 54-28 (2nd in the Northwest Division, 5th in the Western Conference)

Season ended: Game 5 of the Western Conference Semi-Finals against the San Antonio Spurs

Key Additions:

  • Steve Blake – Free agent signing
  • Chris Kaman – Free agent signing
  • James Southerland – Free agent signing

Key Departures:

  • Mo Williams – Signed with the Minnesota Timberwolves
  • Earl Watson – Unsigned

Season Preview – The Trailblazers basically bring back the same team as last season, but with a little bit more veteran presence. Chris Kaman and Steve Blake should help shore up some of the inexperience off the bench. With that said, the Blazers’ Achilles heel this season will be the same as last season’s: lack of bench production. Second year guard CJ Mccollum will be expected to fill the production provided by Mo Williams. They were lucky the injury bug didn’t bite that hard last season. They will need similar health next season to produce the same output.

2014-15 will be successful if: The Blazers make it to the Western Conference Finals

Projected 2014-15 Record: 52-30

3. Denver Nuggets

Indiana Pacers v Denver Nuggets

Last season: 36-46 (4th in the Northwest Division, 11th in the Western Conference)

Season ended: Last day of the regular season

Key Additions:

  • Arron Afflalo – Obtained in a trade with the Orlando Magic
  • Gary Harris – Draft (No. 19 in the 2014 NBA Draft)
  • Jusuf Nurkic – Draft (No. 16 in the 2014 NBA Draft)

Key Departures:

  • Evan Fournier – Traded to the Orlando Magic
  • Jan Vesely – Signed overseas
  • Anthony Randolph – Signed overseas
  • Aaron Brooks – Signed with the Chicago Bulls

Season Preview – I only wrote three names on the “Key Additions” section, but with half the team coming back from injury, you could easily add about 5 players to that section. Now, half the team is a bit of an exaggeration, but the players who are coming back are core members of the rotation. JaVale McGee, Danilo Galinari, JJ Hickson, and Nate Robinson all missed time last season with surgery necessitating injuries. With all those key players coming back and Kenneth Faried coming off a great showing in the FIBA World Cup, Denver becomes the wild card in the Western Conference. Two seasons ago, they were the No. 3 seed in the Western Conference with many of these players on the team. It may take Denver a bit to gel, but I could definitely see them being a nuisance come the second half of the season.

2014-15 will be successful if: The Nuggets make it to the playoffs

Projected 2014-15 Record: 40-42

4. Utah Jazz

burke hayward favors jazz

Last season: 25-57 (5th in the Northwest Division,  15th in the Western Conference)

Season ended: Last day of the regular season

Key Additions:

  • Trevor Booker – Free agent signing
  • Dante Exum – Draft (No. 5 in the 2014 NBA Draft)
  • Rodney Hood – Draft (No. 23 in the 2014 NBA Draft)
  • Steve Novak – Obtained in a trade with the Toronto Raptors

Key Departures:

  • Richard Jefferson – Signed with the Dallas Mavericks
  • Marvin Williams – Signed with the Charlotte Hornets
  • Brandon Rush – Signed with the Golden State Warriors
  • Diante Garrett – Traded to the Toronto Raptors

Season Preview – The Jazz are probably at the midway point of their rebuild. Their young guys from 2-3 seasons ago are starting to come up for extensions and they have yet to show much fruit. They had to pay Gordon Hayward max money in order to keep him away from Charlotte. And their backcourt consists of a rookie (Exum) and a 2nd year player (Trey Burke). I think the Jazz take a step this season. Not necessarily a big one, but a 5-7 win improvement through the internal development of Hayward, Enes Kanter, Derrick Favors, and Trey Burke. Show improvement and the team probably stays the course. But, flounder again, and the team may be looking at a smaller rebuild for the future.

2014-15 will be successful if: The Jazz win 35 games

Projected 2014-15 Record: 31-51

5. Minnesota Timberwolves

"blg 04 wolves state fair"

Last season: 40-42 (3rd in the Northwest Division, 10th in the Western Conference)

Season ended: Last day of the regular season

Key Additions:

  • Anthony Bennett – Obtained in a trade with the Cleveland Cavaliers
  • Zach Lavine – Draft (No. 13 in the 2014 NBA Draft)
  • Glenn Robinson III – Draft (No. 40 in the 2014 NBA Draft)
  • Andrew Wiggins – Obtained in a trade with the Cleveland Cavaliers (No. 1 in the 2014 NBA Draft)
  • Mo Williams – Free agent signing
  • Thaddeus Young – Obtained in a trade with the Philadelphia 76ers

Key Departures:

  • Kevin Love – Traded to the Cleveland Cavaliers
  • Luc Richard Mbah a Moute – Traded to the Philadelphia 76ers
  • Alexey Shved – Traded to the Philadelphia 76ers

Season Preview – The Timberwolves seem to have a problem holding on to great power forwards. Kevin Garnett about seven years ago and Kevin Love this offseason. But they got a much better haul this time around for Love than they did for Garnett. Wiggins has franchise player potential and Bennett has match-up problems potential if he is healthy this season. Thaddeus Young is a good veteran stopgap at the forward spot, but is also young enough to grow with this group. I believe this team will surprise some people. Rubio is made to be a fast break point guard and now has the horses to let loose his talent. In the end though, this team is extremely young and will have plenty of growing pains this season. Luckily, they’ll also be exciting as hell.

2014-15 will be successful if: The Timberwolves’ young players show development throughout the season, and they still garner a Top 5 pick.

Projected 2014-15 Record: 30-52

Oklahoma City Thunder at Portland Trailblazers preview (Game 54 of 82)

durant batum thunder trailblazers

  • When: Tuesday, 11 February 2014 at 9:00 PM CST
  • Where: Moda Center, Portland, OR

The Oklahoma City Thunder find themselves in good footing heading into the All-Star break. They are 3.5 games up in the Western Conference and have gotten the tougher part of the schedule out of the way (since Dec. 27, the Thunder have either played back to backs or have had only one day off between games). Also, the Thunder have a certain somebody coming back after the All-Star break.

This will be the last regular season meeting between these two Northwest Division rivals. All 3 previous games have been decided in the 4th quarter, with Portland taking the first two and OKC taking that last meeting.

The Opponent

NBA: Indiana Pacers at Portland Trail Blazers

The Trailblazers are currently 36-15, which is good for 3rd in the Western Conference standings. After a torrid start to begin the season, the Blazers are only 5-6 in their last 11 games. Their biggest issue is defense, where they give up 103.5 ppg. Fortunately for them, they combat that by averaging 108 ppg, good for 1st in the league. They also lead the league in 3-point makes per game (9.4), while making them at a 38.1% clip. Their offense is an inside-out attack, usually starting with LaMarcus Aldridge on a post-up. There, Aldridge either uses his patented fade-away jumper or passes it to a myriad of shooters (Damian Lillard, Mo Williams, CJ McCollum, or Wesley Matthews). Up front, Robin Lopez causes havoc with his energy, especially on the offensive boards.

Probable Starting Line-ups

Portland Trailblazers

  • 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. Rebounding – A lot of Portland’s offense either comes through an Aldridge fadeaway or a 3-pointer. With so many perimeter shots, there’s bound to be plenty of rebounds for the taking. In their last three meetings against the Thunder, Aldridge and Lopez have amassed 21 offensive boards between them.

Serge Ibaka, Robin Lopez

2. Turnovers – In the two losses to Portland, the Thunder are averaging 11.5 turnovers per game. In the lone victory, only 7 turnovers. Now, 11.5 TO’s is below the Thunder’s season average, but if you give a jump shooting team ample opportunities to burn you, they eventually will. Also of note, Portland is a decent transition team.

3. Lamb – With Reggie moving over to the starting line-up, it seems as if Lamb has struggled in adjusting to being the No. 1 option on the second team. He’s had flashes of his early season effectiveness, but lately, there have been a lot of 1-8 and 2-10 games. With such a high scoring team, someone outside of Durant, Ibaka, and Jackson will have to step up.

Thunder Halftime Report: 2013-14 Edition

durant fisher thunder

Forty one down, forty one more to go. The first half of the season for the Oklahoma City Thunder has played out like a full season. From injuries, to returns, to reinjuries, to MVP pushes, it has been a roll coaster of emotion that has run the gamut. Through it all, the Thunder have found a way to win 31 games and remain near the top of the Western Conference standings.

Here are 10 thoughts from the first half of the season:

10. The Western Conference is head and shoulders above the Eastern Conference in terms of competitiveness.

The Western Conference features 10 teams at .500 or above, while the Eastern Conference, until recently, only had 3 teams with that same win percentage range. Within the past week, three teams have joined the fray in the Eastern Conference with records of 20-20. The fact still remains, though: there’s an ocean sized gulf in the competitive balance between the two conferences. While Indiana and Miami are the crème de la crème of the EC, the West has at least 6 suitors for the top spot.

I have no doubt the Eastern Conference Finals between the Miami Heat and the Indiana Pacers will be a great 7-game affair. But the amount of work that both of those teams have to put in to get to that point will pale in comparison to the battles that will be waged in every single round of the Western Conference playoffs. While that makes for a battle tested representative from the West, it also makes for a tired or injured representative that has survived a war of attrition. Something to watch for as we move on.

9. Scott Brooks needs to be considered for Coach of the Year.

Coach of the Year is usually given to the coach whose team unexpectedly excels despite what the prognosticators predicted in the preseason. If that is the case, then this award will come down to a battle between Jeff Hornacek of the Phoenix Suns or Terry Stotts of the Portland Trailblazers. When Phil Jackson and Gregg Popovich have only combined for 3 COY awards between them, you know this is a fresh-face award. And that does not bode well for Brooks’ candidacy.

brooks jackson thunder

But consider this, the Thunder are tied for the 3rd best record in the league, while missing a top-10 player for about half the season so far. When Russell Westbrook was in the line-up, the Thunder had the best record in the league during that stretch. And the Thunder have had to incorporate new young players into the rotation that did not garner heavy minutes last season. The balance and willingness to adapt that Brooks has shown throughout the season makes this his best coaching job to date, and one that I think garners consideration for COY.

8. Serge Ibaka has been the glue that has held this team together.

Through all the changes that have occurred this season, the only constant has been Serge Ibaka. From Westbrook to Reggie Jackson to the young bench’s emergence to Kevin Durant’s dominance, the one factor that usually determines a Thunder victory is how well Ibaka plays. In games in which he has a double double, the Thunder are 14-3. In games where Ibaka scores 16 or more, the Thunder are 16-2.  It’s as simple as this: if Ibaka plays well, the Thunder usually win. And he’s been playing a lot more consistently this season. He’s gotten smarter defensively and is concentrating more on positioning than on chasing every shots that comes into the lane. His play has been solid enough this season to garner a real look at him making the All-Star game.

7. Kendrick Perkins currently has more value to this team than Thabo Sefolosha.

For all the chastising that Kendrick Perkins receives from fans and media members alike, he still has value on this team. Is he probably the worst offensive center in the league (starting or not)? Yes. What takes longer to get off the ground: Kendrick Perkins or an 18 wheeler using a manual jack? Probably Perk. But the experience Perkins has as a post defender is invaluable when the opponent has a player like Dwight Howard, Tim Duncan, or LaMarcus Aldridge. His knowledge of defensive principles in the post also helps the Thunder out. And, well, he’s a hell of a screen setter. Is he worth $8.7 million (and over $9 million next season)? Of course not, but from team hierarchy perspective, Perkins is the guard dog that patrols the Thunder’s house, on and off the court.

sefolosha perkins thunder

Thabo Sefolosha is the team’s main perimeter defender and the anointed “corner 3” guy. Over the past two seasons, that role has worked out great for Sefolosha. He shot over 40% from 3-point territory and was, without question, the best perimeter defender on the team. This season though, his 3-point shooting percentage is down to 31% and his role as a one-on-one defender has started to decline. Also, the drafting of Andre Roberson and the emergence of Jeremy Lamb have given the Thunder options if Sefolosha leaves via free agency this offseason.

6. The team made the right choice in sticking with Jeremy Lamb. 

Heading into the last offseason, the Thunder’s biggest trade asset was guard Jeremy Lamb. Along with the No. 12 pick, the Thunder could have packaged their young asset to move up in the draft. Instead they kept their pick and chose to stay with Lamb. It has proven to be a wise choice. Lamb has provided valuable perimeter shooting to a team severely lacking it, and has been a great glue guy, providing whatever needs to be provided to win.

5. Steven Adams was made to play for this team.

When the Thunder drafted Adams, I envisioned a year full of trips down I-44 between Oklahoma City and Tulsa for the big man. Instead, Adams is probably in the second tier of rookies vying for Rookie of the Year. He brute physicality and footwork have helped him adjust to the pro game a lot quicker than most expected. He has shown flashes of an offensive game (hook shots, a developing mid-range jumper) and leads the league in PEFG (players ejected from game).

steven adams thunder vince carter

He is developing in this teams’ version of Bill Laimbeer or Dennis Rodman. A guy that who raises the ire of other players, but who also remains as cool as the other side of the pillow. He starting to develop a reputation around the league as a dirty player, but, really, he just plays strong. And this generation of player does not like getting physical.

4. When completely healthy, the Thunder are the deepest team in the league. 

The Thunder are constructed to have a little bit of everything. If you need big men, the Thunder can trot out 4 or 5 that get regular minutes. If you need veteran savvy, the Thunder can give you Nick Collison or Derek Fisher regularly. If you need scoring off the bench, I present to you Reggie Jackson and Jeremy Lamb. If you need a jack of all trades, here’s Perry Jones. And that’s without even getting into Durant, Ibaka, and Westbrook. The Thunder are loaded when the entire team is available. When the starters sit, the bench has the ability to either chip away at deficits or blow the game wide open. If you want small ball, the team can put out 2 or 3 different combinations that are all very effective.

The point of the James Harden trade was to not only have financial flexibility, but also roster flexibility. Instead of having just one combo guard off the bench, you now have a combo guard, a shooting guard, and a developing big man. More parts for less money is always a win in any business.

3. Point guard is the hardest position to learn in basketball.

Combo guards sometimes have the most difficult job in basketball. A pure point guard has to worry about distributing first, then scoring. But a combo guard has to read the situation and determine whether he should pass or shoot. Sounds like the same situation, but there are two totally different mentalities involved. We saw that with Russell Westbrook, who had all the tools to be a combo guard, but had to neuter that a bit to learn how to be a starting point guard in this league.

jackson thunder

Reggie Jackson is learning how to make that transition. Even though he’s in his 3rd season, this is basically his 2nd season of playing. He was thrown into the fire his rookie season with Eric Maynor’s injury, but got sent back to the bench once the team signed Derek Fisher. In his 2nd season, he shuffled between the end of the bench and Tulsa for the first half of the season before finally being given the reins to the bench in the second half of last season. With the Westbrook injury, Jackson has had to commandeer the first team and has done a commendable job. Is he making mistakes? Yes. But he’s also showing signs of “getting it” and will be a valuable asset for the team moving forward.

2. Russell Westbrook’s health is the single most important factor in the Thunder contending for a championship.

That statement is self-explanatory. I don’t care what Russell Westbrook has to do to stay healthy for the remainder of the season. If he has to take every 3rd game off, let’s do it. If he has to be on the “Tim Duncan/Dwayne Wade” rest regiment, I’m down.  Whatever it takes to get this man healthy and ready for the playoffs. Because if he misses any time in the playoffs, the chances of the Thunder advancing drops dramatically.

Russell Westbrook

The team is able to tread water during the regular season because there a ton of factors that don’t exist in the playoffs. The scouting reports are shorter for regular season games. The travel is more daunting during the regular season, which leads to fatigue. But during the playoffs, when a team has days to scout their opponent and there are no back to backs, this is where the team will need Westbrook. Get well Russ!

1. If it wasn’t for the championship resumè, Durant would be considered the best player in the game. 

It’s funny how the narrative in a 41-game stretch can completely change. When the season started, everyone was wondering whether Paul George would overtake Durant for the No.2 spot in the imaginary player ranking that many media members have. Then, when Lebron James came out the gates shooting over 60% from the field, the MVP award was basically handed to him by most media members. But Durant just kept plugging along, doing what he does. Efficient, ruthless, and calculated.

Then when Westbrook went down again after Christmas, many thought the momentum that the Thunder had built up to that point would come crashing down. Rewind back to last season when Westbrook went down in the playoffs. Durant knew he needed to step up, and he did. But, I don’t think he trusted his teammates enough to allow them to do the heavy-lifting. Instead of focusing only on scoring, Durant instead became the de facto point guard, the best rebounder, and the best perimeter defender. In the end, that began to affect his stamina, and he found himself completely winded by the middle of the 4th quarter.

This season, though, Durant has trusted his teammates more and the results have spoken for themselves. Ibaka has started to become an extremely reliable mid-range release valve, and a great partner in the pick and roll. The team is rebounding and defending as a whole better. The bench offers more roster flexibility. And the offense, while still stagnant at times, has enough wrinkles to quickly get out of funks.

durant thunder batum trailblazers

But in the end, it’s all about Durant. And his play in January (37 ppg, 5.6 rpg, 5.9 apg on 52/39/88 splits) has been one for the ages. While MVP’s are not won in January, Durant is just now learning how to dominate, while not interfering in the game plan. He is doing this all within the flow of the game. It’s scary for the league when Durant is probably a season or two away from reaching his prime.

There’s forty more games to go. The Thunder defeated the Portland Trailblazers in raucous fashion to begin their next 41. The season is still a long ways from being over and many things can happen during that time. But, I, for one, am extremely impressed by what I’m witnessing from this team and what the future holds. Here’s to health and 16 more victories after the season.

Portland Trailblazers vs. Oklahoma City Thunder preview (Game 31 of 82)

portland vs thunder

  • 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 Opponent

NBA: Indiana Pacers at Portland Trail Blazers

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

Portland Trailblazers

  • 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.

Oklahoma City Thunder v Portland Trail Blazers

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.

OKC Thunder Week in Review (Feb 6th – Feb 12th)

Record for the week – 3 – 1

Overall record – 21 – 6

One word to describe this week: tiring. With a 4 game West-Coast trip, every game usually finished around midnight, our time. And all 4 games were close enough that you had to watch them in their entirety. No blow-outs this week.

Games played:

Feb 6th – @ Portland

There comes a game in every season where you just sit back and say, “Wow, the refs got that all wrong.” Two years ago, in a tightly contested overtime thriller against the Utah Jazz, they got the benefit of a no-call at the final horn to escape with a 1 point victory at home. It was very apparent that Kevin Durant was hacked as he attempted the last second 3-pt heave. But the refs swallowed their whistles and the game went down in the record books as a Jazz victory. A day later, the NBA apologized because it had gotten the call wrong.

Fast forward to the Portland game on Monday. With 7 seconds left, KD drove to the basket with the Thunder down by 2. At the same time that the ball hit the backboard, LaMarcus Aldridge swatted the ball from behind. A close call, but the refs called a goal-tend and awarded the two points to Durant to tie the game. After a failed attempt by the Trailblazers at the end of regulation, the Thunder used timely scoring from their big three (Durant, Russell Westbrook, and James Harden) and great defense by Kendrick Perkins on LaMarcus Aldridge to pull out a 111 – 107 victory. A day later, the NBA apologized for the blown call by the refs in awarding the goal-tending call to Durant. Sometime you’re the hammer, and sometimes you’re the nail.

Feb 7th – @ Golden State

Golden State games are the only games that give me heartburn, especially if they are in Oakland. Hypothetically, looking at the records, we should be able to clamp down defensively on this team and cruise to an easy victory. But for some reason, be that style of play or the fact that our defensive weaknesses match up so poorly with their offensive strengths, we can never quite have a comfortable lead against this team. We usually end up winning, but it a very close affair all the way until the end. In the last four seasons, including this one, we are 9 – 4 against the Warriors, but the average score has been a “too close for comfort” 111 – 109. And why would Tuesday night by any different?

The game was actually a microcosm of the games these teams have played in the last 4 seasons. Every time someone pushed a lead to 7 points, the other team went a 12-1 run to capture the lead. No lead was safe. The torrid pace was fun, but many Thunder fans lost at least 1 year of their lives because of this game. The Warriors were led by Monta Ellis who had a career high 48 points and by David Lee who notched his 2nd career triple-double with 25 points, 11 boards, and 10 assists. But while the Dubs had 2 great players, the Thunder relied on 4 players who between them scored 100 points (Durant (33), Westbrook (31), Harden (19) and Cook (17)). The 4th quarter was the Big 3 with a Cook show. All 4 players provided timely baskets to keep the Thunder within striking distance throughout the 4th quarter. With 17 seconds to go and the Thunder down by 1, they went to ol’ reliable (Durant), who went to the bank and put the Thunder up by 1. The Warriors didn’t score the rest of the way. 119-116 Thunder.

Feb 8th – Off day

And on the middle day of a back to back West Coast sandwich, Thunder Nation rested.

Feb 9th – @ Sacramento

If there was one game in this set where you said to yourself, “This is going to be an easy game,” this was definitely it. A young, inconsistent team who had fired their coach earlier in the season and had 2 mercurial young stars (Tyreke Evans and DeMarcus Cousins). On paper, this was a gimme. But, as the saying goes, this is why you play the game. The Thunder pulled the same M.O. from their 2 games; keep it close, apply the clamps at the end, and make timely shots. The only problem was that the Kings shook the clamps off late in the 4th quarter and those timely shots weren’t falling for the Thunder in this game. In their only nationally televised game, with a playoff atmosphere that hadn’t been seen since the glory days of Chris Webber and Vlade Divac, and a raucous crowd that was all blacked-out, the young Kings rose to the occasion and outlasted the Thunder 106-101. Was there any reason to think that the Thunder would win when Chris Webber shows up to call a game and ends up putting a Kings jersey on?

Feb 10 – @ Utah

There are just some games where everything works out for you. In a game where Durant deferred offensively, Russell Westbrook happily stepped up and scored 28 points on 10 – 20 shooting. It just felt like one of those games where we held the Jazz at bay, but knew that they could string together a 10-1 run at any point. It never materialized, in part to the double doubles posted by each Kendrick Perkin and Serge Ibaka, which negated anything from the Jazz’s front court duo of Al Jefferson and Paul Millsap. The Thunder coasted in the second half to a 101 – 87 victory.

Player of the Week: Serge Ibaka

In a week where Durant and Westbrook averaged nearly 30 ppg each and hit timely shots, this week’s award is going to someone on the defensive end. If there was a picture next to the words ‘interior defender’, it would be of Serge Ibaka. For the week, his ridiculous stat line was as follows – 4 games played (10.3 ppg on 55% FG shooting and 82% FT shooting, 9.8 boards per game (with 4 per game coming offensively), and 4 blocks per game). He single handily kept us in games with his offensive rebounding and paint protection.

3 In The Paint

1. Russell Westbrook’s assist numbers (or lack thereof) are really starting to worry me. I completely understand that our offense is iso-oriented and Durant and Harden’s assist numbers are going up. But I think a lot of our early game struggles are due to the fact that we are not finding a groove offensively with the first unit and instead have to wait until the 2nd unit gets in to find any kind of cohesiveness on the offensive end. If Russell would think involvement instead of attack when the game starts, I think that would make a lot more things open up for the starters earlier in the game.

2. Some teams have no closers. Some teams only have one. But we have the luxury of having 2. Durant and Westbrook were mostly great in their late game executions this week. Westbrook had the mid-range game working late in games and Durant hit the big shot when it needed to be hit (even if he had a little help from the refs on one of those occasions).

3. Turnovers, turnovers, turnovers. A lot of the reason why teams are able to hang around till the end with us is because of our penchant for turning the ball over. If this number goes down, the number of close games will probably go down to.

Thunder UP!!!!