Current Records: Oklahoma City Thunder (31-10), Portland Trailblazers (31-10)
Last time they met: Oklahoma City Thunder (94) lost to Portland Trailblazers (98)
This top of the Western Conference clash is going to be an absolute barn-burner. The last time these two teams met it went down to the wire – regardless of what the final scoreline shows. Had it not been for a defensive lapse allowing a Batum corner three and Westbrook going a little early on a Perkins screen, things could have been very different. LaMarcus Aldridge lit the Thunder up with 38 points and 13 rebounds and will again be the focus of the Portland offence.
Of course, Westbrook won’t be in uniform for this one, so that changes the dynamic of the match up quite a lot. Instead of Russ guarding Damian Lillard, that task is going to be given to Reggie Jackson, and no doubt at some point Thabo Sefolosha and Derek Fisher. All of the Portland starters scored in double figures in the last meeting and their crisp ball movement had the Thunder defense scrambling. With Jackson in the lineup, the Thunder are statistically better defensively and this will be a huge test.
Kevin Durant has been unbelievable and is coming off the Western Conference Player of the Week award. A career high 54pts against the Golden State Warriors and a 30pt 9ast effort in a win over the Kings show just what sort of form KD is in. The Thunder are going to need his efficient best if they are to carve out a victory at home. Chesapeake holds some good value to the Thunder who won 13 straight at home before being cooled off by the Toronto Raptors and they will be looking for any advantage.
Kevin Durant vs. Nicholas Batum
These two match up very well, but it is going to take a superb effort on the defensive end for Batum to curtail the influence of Durant who – since Westbrook went down – has been playing in a league above the rest. Last time Batum hit the clincher from deep and forced Durant into a sub 50% shooting night – even though KD was able to net 33 points. The task will be made a little easier for Batum with Westbrook out of the lineup and that much tougher for Durant who will be given different defenders like Batum and Wes Matthews throughout the night. If Durant can take the honors in this matchup, the Thunder might come away with the W.
Serge Ibaka vs LaMarcus Aldridge
If Kevin Durant is leading the race for the NBA’s Most Valuable Player award, then LaMarcus Aldridge has to be hot on his heels. As mentioned above, Aldridge torched the Thunder last meeting and that cannot happen again if the Thunder are to be a chance. Ibaka is not only going to have to match him on the defensive end, make life difficult and contest those mid-range shots, he is also going to have to have an impact on the offensive end. Over the past few games, Ibaka has been able to score 20+ points and that has been a big reason the Thunder are on a three game win streak. He will need to be at his very best.
Reggie Jackson vs Damian Lillard
Damian Lillard knows nothing about a sophomore slump. His form this season has carried over from his sensational Rookie of the Year campaign and his value to this team cannot be measured. Currently averaging over 21ppg and right around 6apg, Lillard has the ability to take over games at key points. Jackson is going to need to ensure no open looks are given as Lillard is a dead eye shooter so fighting over the screens as he is so good at will be important. Jackson is also going to need to use his quickness to force Lillard to play defense and wear him down that way. If Jackson can push the tempo it may allow some easy transition baskets and wear down Lillard over the course of four quarters.
While the Thunder are at home, Westbrook’s absence will really hurt in this one as Jackson is entrusted to run the show and also stem the influence of Damian Lillard who is sure to be an All Star. The Blazers have Batum who plays very well on Durant so the Thunder are going to need a lot of assistance from Serge Ibaka, Jeremy Lamb and others if they want to get a win. If LaMarcus Aldridge is allowed to shoot those “top of the key” mid range jumpshots, then Portland will take this one easily. The Thunder need to lock down on Aldridge and the not allow open looks. Durant is going to have to have another all around game like he did against the Sacramento Kings if OKC are to have a chance. Heart over head on this prediction – Thunder 100, Trailblazers 97.
Who do you think takes the points in this one? Let us know in the comments below!