Richard Rowe-US PRESSWIRE

Thunder (18-5) at Trailblazers (14-10), 10:00 p.m. EST tip

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Thunder (1-game losing streak)
105.0 Offensive Efficiency (4th)
99.0 Defensive Efficiency (13th)
95.6 Pace (8th)

Trailblazers (1-game winning streak)
101.9 Offensive Efficiency (12th)
95.4 Defensive Efficiency (4th)
95.8 Pace (6th)

Oklahoma City’s last game was a tough one that they dropped on the road to San Antonio. That night belonged to Tony Parker who lit the Thunder up to the tune of 42 points and nine assists. The Thunder were on a back-to-back and had played their stars many minutes the night before. The Thunder were off yesterday for the Super Bowl and return on the road to face the Portland Trailblazers tonight who beat the Thunder 103-93 the first time they met this season in Oklahoma City. The Thunder were without Thabo Sefolosha in that game as well and James Harden started in place off him and led the Thunder in scoring with 23 points. Kevin Durant struggled mightily from the field going 8-of-26 and scored 19 points. The Blazers are a tough, physical team that can rough you up. Portland may also be one of the Thunder’s toughest competition coming out of the West this season once the playoffs come around.

Thunder keys to the game

1. Slow down LaMarcus Aldridge

You’re not going to completely shut down Aldridge but it’s a must to slow him down and make sure he doesn’t have a huge night if you’re going to beat the Blazers. Aldridge scored 30 the first time these teams played and went 10-of-12 from the line. The Thunder have improved their post defense since then and are fourth in the NBA from an efficiency standpoint in guarding the post. Serge Ibaka in particular has been on a tear in terms of blocking shots of late but the Blazers are a savvy bunch between Aldridge and Marcus Camby so the blocks may not come as easy tonight. It will be crucial to force Portland’s guards into looking to score off the pick-and-roll this game rather than allowing Aldridge to catch and get open looks at the rim.

2. Get to the line

The Thunder are one of the best teams in the NBA at getting to the free throw line but had trouble doing so the first time they played Portland. Durant was 1-of-7 from deep in that meeting and just 2-of-4 from the line. Durant will need to be more aggressive tonight and considering how physical Portland plays really should shoot double-digit free throws if the Thunder are going to win. The same goes for Harden and Russell Westbrook. Neither should be settling too much for long jumpers.

3. Someone other than The Big Three

For the Thunder you know Durant, Westbrook and Harden are going to score but they always need at least one other to step up when playing a team like Portland. The Blazers should be able to prevent Durant or Westbrook from going for 40 so getting Ibaka in double-figures or three to four three-pointers from Daequan Cook will be necessary for the Thunder to pull this one out. Cook went 0-for-3 from three the first time these teams played but has been starting and playing better overall of late so hopefully that momentum can carry over into tonight. The same can be said for Ibaka who has been better around the rim. Durant is going to get double as soon as he catches off down screens so the bigs Ibaka, Kendrick Perkins and Nick Collison need to be ready to quickly catch and finish before help comes in the form of Camby or Aldridge.

Prediction: Portland wins 97-95.

The opponent’s view: Rip City Project

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Tags: Daequan Cook James Harden Kendrick Perkins Kevin Durant Nick Collison Russell Westbrook Serge Ibaka Thabo Sefolosha

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