Blazers vs. Thunder (8 ET, NBA TV)
Tonight marks the fourth and final regular-season matchup between the Portland Trail Blazers and Oklahoma City Thunder and both teams are in the thick of the Western Conference playoff hunt. Since the start of the 2014-15 season, The Blazers are 7-4 against the Thunder and, more importantly, are 2-1 against them in 2016-17. Despite Portland’s edge, the Blazers (No. 9 in the West) are currently looking up at the Thunder (No. 7 seed) in the standings. With less than 40 days before the playoffs tip, this game could key how the lower half of the playoff bracket shapes up.
Since the offseason departure of Kevin Durant, the bulk of OKC's offensive burden has been placed on Russell Westbrook. The dynamic guard not only leads the team in scoring, but also rebounds and assists. Thunder management acknowledged the need to surround Westbrook with more firepower for the stretch run by acquiring former Chicago Bulls forwards Taj Gibson and Doug McDermott at the trade deadline. OKC went 3-0 with the new pieces and they also signed backup point guard Norris Cole to help free Westbrook from ball handling duties. However, OKC is 0-3 since Cole joined the team.
The Thunder enter tonight's game having lost three straight on the road, but thankfully they are a much better team when playing at home this season. OKC is 12-2 at home since Christmas Day and has six of its next eight games at Chesapeake Energy Arena, which could help the Thunder rise in the Western Conference standings.
For most of this season, the term "triple-double" has been synonymous with Westbrook. Through 63 games, he is averaging a triple-double (31.7 points per game, 10.6 rebounds per game, 10 assists per game) and leads the NBA with 30 triple-doubles overall. However, he hasn't had a triple-double in three straight games. He will look to avoid completing four straight games without recording a triple-double since a five-game span earlier this season (Nov. 2-9). If the streak ends, Westbrook will tie Wilt Chamberlain for the second most triple-doubles recorded in a season.
Most Triple-Doubles (Single Season)
41: Oscar Robertson (1961-62)
31: Wilt Chamberlain (1967-68)
30: Russell Westbrook (2016-17*)
* = Finished 6 games one rebound or an assist shy of a triple-double
Last Thursday, the Blazers defeated the Thunder 114-109. A big reason for the win was the play of Damian Lillard, who poured in 33 points and five assists. Portland trails the Denver Nuggets by two games in the Western Conference race for the 8th seed. Lillard seems to have found his stride of late, scoring 30 or more points in three of the Blazers last five games and is averaging 10.8 ppg in the fourth quarter during that span, too.
CENTER OF ATTENTION
Portland pursued many big men to help balance out the scoring load with Lillard and C.J. McCollum and prior to the trade deadline, it acquired Nuggets center Jusuf Nurkic for Mason Plumlee.
Through six games, Nurkic is averaging 14.5 ppg, 8.2 rpg and shooting 57.6 percent. His play keeps opponents honest, thus making it tougher to load up on the Blazers' star guards. However great the stats have been, though, the Blazers' results with Nurkic have been mixed at best (they're 3-3 since the trade). He'll have his hands full tonight taking on the bruising play of Steven Adams and the nimble footwork of Enes Kanter.
SAVED BY THE BELL
Portland travels to OKC on three days rest after its Monday matchup in Minnesota was postponed due to condensation on the court. With this originally being scheduled as the second half of a back-to-back, the Blazers catch an unexpected break tonight. The Blazers will be without the likes of Ed Davis (left shoulder) and Evan Turner (right hand), but hope to have Allen Crabbe, who’s listed as probable (left tibia contusion), in the lineup. Despite a few key guys out with injury, Portland should benefit from the extra time off as it is 3-1 in games after three or more days rest.