Trail Blazers vs Thunder Friday, 04/12/13 AT 07:00PM

Trail Blazers Host Western Conference Leading Thunder

04/12/13
  1. Written by: erikgundersen  / avg. rating: 5.0

    BY ERIK GUNDERSEN

    On Friday night the Portland Trail Blazers (33-45) take on the Oklahoma City Thunder (58-21) at the Rose Garden for their second-to-last home game of the season. Tip-off for that game will be at 7PM and be shown on CSNNW. It can be heard on 1190 AM and 102.3 AM. The Trail Blazers will be looking to snap their season-long nine-game losing streak. Friday night is also 90's night at the Rose Garden.

        •    First off, we'll address injuries: Wesley Matthews will be out for the second-straight game and according to Terry Stotts, Nicolas Batum (shoulder), JJ Hickson (back) and LaMarcus Aldridge (illness) will all be re-evaluated tomorrow. One would expect Aldridge to go even though he missed practice as he played against the Lakers despite being ill. As far as Batum and Hickson, the soonest we will likely know more will be after shoot around the morning of the game or just before tip-off. Darnell Mayberry of The Oklahoman reported on twitter that Kendrick Perkins doubtful for Oklahoma City after injuring his hamstring last night in Oklahoma City's 116-97 win against the Warriors in Oakland.
      
     •    The Thunder have had Portland's number all year long. The two meetings in Oklahoma City were dominating performances by the Thunder. Both times, the Trail Blazers were both unable to stop the Thunder or make enough shots to keep up with them. However, the Trail Blazers were able to make it a game in their only meeting in Portland. LaMarcus Aldridge and Kevin Durant went shot-for-shot with each other in a game the Trail Blazers eventually lost by four, 87-83. The Trail Blazers played fairly well in their last trip despite losing by 20 and were only down by five points with six minutes left before their comeback ran out of gas and they were unable to match Oklahoma City's explosion late in the game. But, Aldridge didn't have it going from the field the Oklahoma City defense more or less held everybody except Damian Lillard, who finished with 19 points and six assists, in check. The Trail Blazers will have to come out with the same aggressiveness and confidence they did in the first half of the Lakers game if they are to have a chance. The Thunder, like the Lakers, will be arriving on the second night of a back-to-back after playing the Warriors last night. However, the Thunder have far more youthful legs than the Lakers and like the Lakers, they will be playing for something: the number one seed in the Western Conference.
       
    •    A key to keeping pace with the Thunder will definitely be taking advantage of their high turnover rate. The Thunder are 4th in the NBA in turnover percentage, turning the ball over on 16 percent of their possessions. The Rockets are the highest and both teams have great offenses. However, the Trail Blazers have got to take advantage of the opportunities to get easy buckets in transition to keep up with the high-powered Thunder. The Thunder committed 11 turnovers in the previous match-up but the Trail Blazers were not able to capitalize like they could have, only getting two points off the 11 turnovers. The Trail Blazers did a great job of getting out in transition against the Lakers. However, as was the challenge against the Lakers, getting back in transition is equally important in not allowing the Thunder, one of the best teams in transition, easy buckets in the open court.
      
     •    Last game Damian Lillard didn't shy away from the defensive challenge of guarding Kobe Bryant in tandem with many other Trail Blazers but tomorrow his assignment will be the tough, relentless and always energetic Russell Westbrook. Wesbtrook has been aggressive against the Trail Blazers even if he has not been efficient in three games against the Trail Blazers. In three games, Westbrook is averaging 23.7 points per game on 21 shots per game. Lillard had his best game against the Thunder this year in the previous match-up. After last game's epic tilt against Kobe Bryant and the fact that the Trail Blazers have yet to beat OKC, as well as the added pleasure in perhaps stopping the Thunder short of their desired number one seed, I expect Lillard and the Trail Blazers to be locked in once again. Not only to play the part of spoiler, but get some positive vibes after a game, which unfortunately hasn't happened in nine straight games. It will be interesting to see how the Thunder guard him from the start. If they start blitzing him early, the Trail Blazers will have to beat the defense in scramble situations as well as hit open shots. The Thunder are one of the best defensive teams in the league (4th in defensive rating, giving up 99.2 points per 100 possessions). The Trail Blazers must stick to their principles and move the ball. Forcing some early turnovers could get Portland going in their flow, much like it did against the Lakers on Friday. But, as addressed earlier, this is a different and much more explosive opponent.

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