Trail Blazers Vs. Thunder Preview
December 31st, 2013
The Oklahoma City Thunder have compensated for the loss of Russell Westbrook with outstanding defense in their last two games.
The Portland Trail Blazers have had problems with defense in their first set of consecutive defeats.
These high-scoring teams meet Tuesday night in Oklahoma City, where the Thunder seek their 34th win in the last 35 regular-season games against Western Conference foes.
Oklahoma City (25-5) will try to increase its Northwest Division lead over Portland (24-7) to 2 ½ games after victories over Charlotte and Houston in which it held those opponents to a combined 37.0 percent shooting.
Those wins have come without Westbrook, who is out until after the All-Star break due to knee surgery.
"I think overall we're playing well on the defensive end, trusting each other, having each other's back," center Kendrick Perkins said. "I think we're just putting the focus on defense."
The Trail Blazers have allowed Miami and New Orleans to shoot 52.8 percent in consecutive defeats, opening this two-game trip with Monday's 110-108 loss to the Pelicans.
"We just have to do a better job of improving it," guard Damian Lillard said. "It's something that we care about, but in order to win more games we need to get it under control."
Lillard won't have to match up with Westbrook and will instead face Reggie Jackson, who had 16 points and eight assists in Sunday's 117-86 win over the Rockets. Jackson bounced back from scoring 10 on 4-of-19 shooting two nights earlier in an 89-85 victory over the Bobcats.
"We're going to do things collectively," Jackson said. "We're going to find a way to play, but we all know our limitations. We all know what we're good at."
Portland won 111-103 at home Dec. 4, in the first meeting this season as stars Kevin Durant and LaMarcus Aldridge put on a show.Durant had 33 points and seven rebounds, but it wasn't enough as Aldridge had a season-high 38 points with 13 rebounds. Westbrook outscored Lillard 21-14 in that one. Lillard scored 29 on Monday and Aldridge had 28 for a Trail Blazers team that was outscored 68-32 in the paint.
"We have 24 wins," guard Wesley Matthews said. "Two consecutive losses aren't going to keep us down. We're going to make mistakes, but at the same time we aren't going to act like this is the best we can do."
After facing the NBA's top shot blocker in Anthony Davis, the Blazers must contend with another league leader in that department one night later in Serge Ibaka - who averages 2.3 rejections.
The Thunder average a league-best 6.3 blocks, but coach Scott Brooks would like to see his team's defense reach an even higher level.
"We like to get our guys over quickly so we can contest those shots," Brooks said. "The thing that we want to continue to work on and build on throughout this season is prevent those shots from even taking place."
The Blazers are the league's highest scoring team at 108.6 points per game, with the Thunder third at 106.1.
Oklahoma City is playing at home on New Year's Eve for the sixth straight year and has won the previous five.