OKC to visit Portland for first time since goaltend call/ AP
The Western Conference-leading Oklahoma City Thunder roll into town tonight, scoring at an incredibly high rate. Last meeting, the Thunder were too tormenting, winning 111-95. But, everyone knows the goaltend seen ‘round the world against the Thunder last time at the RG. Kaleb Canales, Jonny Flynn and JJ Hickson talk about the state of the Blazers, their fuel to make a playoff push, and Antonio Harvey and Dwight Jaynes weigh in on how realistic that is and who will have to step up in Raymond Felton’s absence.
Oklahoma City is now 37-12, 15-8 on the road (virtually the same as Portland's 16-8 home record), and have won 4 of their last 5, breaking 110 in 3 of those wins. The Blazers, fresh off what some might refer to as an “ugly” win, still beat the Warriors for the first time in consecutive meetings since 2009.
Both teams will be without notable players. Shooting guard Daequan Cook is out for the Thunder with a knee injury. Raymond Felton is out to tend to his mother’s heart surgery. This time around, the Blazers are much smaller, and match-ups will be more difficult, especially with a Blazer team in so much of an experimental period. How will the Blazers match-up against Russell Westbrook? The Blazers don't have Gerald Wallace to throw against Durant, nor Marcus Camby to match up with Kendrick Perkins. Serge Ibaka has been blocking everything in his path. And Thabo Sefolosha has been streaky as of late, which certainly means he will have a season high against Portland. It’s unfortunate to acknowledge, but even the Wizards had a field day against the Blazers, raining 3s and in overall field goal percentage; in the Rose Garden, no less.
This Blazers team has been a driven one, though, on certain nights. Will that one be tonight, especially against a team that has kept its rivalry feel since moving from Seattle to Oklahoma City. Especially since the Blazers were robbed out of a game from referee Scott Foster back on February 6th, where the Blazers lost in overtime. Though the NBA admitted Foster blew the call, the Blazers have spiraled since then.
Nonetheless, someone will have to step up. LaMarcus scored 38 on that fateful goaltending night back in February. Wesley had 18, while Durant piled on the usual 33 to Westbrook’s 28. Gerald Wallace thought he was playing on the road and only tallied 4 points in the box score, so never mind thinking the Blazers might miss him on the offensive front. Defense, maybe.
Can new Blazers Jonny Flynn distribute the ball well enough? Will he even start? JJ Hickson, will he pound the ball inside, or show flashes of what he is capable of like he did down in LA?
If the Blazers did have hope left of making the post-season, this would be the kind of game that could turn around their fortunes. Ben Golliver wrote, “There's a rabbit in that hat somewhere, Blazers. Pull it out!”
Among the league leaders with 103.6 points per game, Oklahoma City (37-12) has averaged 122.0 during its winning streak while shooting 53.2 percent. If the Blazers are truly trying to implement a “defense first” mentality, we’ll see that early on tonight. OKC is still riding high off of their win over the Heat. Will it continue? Or can the Blazers bring them back to earth?
The Thunder can’t overlook the 12th-place Trail Blazers (23-26).
Portland hasn’t won two in a row since Jan. 23-24. The Blazers rallied from seven down at halftime to improve to 3-3 since Canales replaced the fired Nate McMillan. Aldridge has made plenty of plays in three games versus Oklahoma City in 2011-12, averaging a team-best 28 points.
Aside from Durant, who’s averaging 33.3 points, 11.7 rebounds and 6.0 assists over the last three games, Portland’s front line of Aldridge, Nicolas Batum and center Joel Przybilla will want to keep a close eye on Ibaka.
Ibaka is averaging 14.0 points per game with 9.0 boards and 3.0 blocks during the winning streak, while center Kendrick Perkins has 28 points and 11 rebounds in the last two contests.
Russell Westbrook, tied with Durant with a team-best 78 points versus Portland this season, scored 28 with 11 boards and eight assists on Feb. 6 to help Oklahoma City snap Portland’s five-game home winning streak.
Last night on Trail Blazers Courtside, Coach Kaleb Canales talked about working through LaMarcus, and discusses the resurgence of Raymond Felton, even though they will be without the point guard on the upswing of things. Will the Blazers continue with their youth movement, or ride it out to see what push they have left? Since taking over, one of the big worries was not just how the players responded to Coach K, but how his fellow coaches would. The interim head coach talks about that. Who will start for Felton? Coach K weighs the positives of both young point guards in Flynn and Nolan Smith.
Speaking of Jonny Flynn, he joined Trail Blazers Courtside last night, as well, talking about how he truly believes Portland is a great fit for him. Why? He also discusses rebounding from his earlier hip injury that sidelined him for much of last year, where he’s at now physically, and what he can bring to the team.
New addition JJ Hickson also talks about the process of thinking he was going to the Warriors before not clearing waivers and being picked up by Portland. He was suited up for Golden State and moments before taking the court, he was told Portland claimed him. What was that like? Hickson also discusses his level of comfort with the team and what his goals are for the rest of the season.
Can the Blazers make a playoff push? When is a good time to start this so-called “youth movement”? What can we expect from tonight’s game? Check out Chad’s conversations with Blazers radio analyst Antonio Harvey and the Godfather, Dwight Jaynes, completing the MSP reunion on this morning’s program.