Trail Blazers Vs. Thunder Preview
January 21st, 2014
By KEVIN CHROUST
With first place in the Northwest Division on the line, the Portland Trail Blazers might be running into Kevin Durant at the wrong time.
Riding seven straight 30-point efforts from the NBA's leading scorer, the Oklahoma City Thunder will try to take sole possession of the division lead when they host the Blazers on Tuesday night.
Durant had 30 points, nine assists and six rebounds on Sunday in a 108-93 home win over Sacramento, a modest encore to Friday's career-high 54-point performance against Golden State. He's averaged 38.3 points since Jan. 7, leading to talk of Durant winning his first MVP after finishing second the past two seasons.
"It's premature," Durant said. "It's way too early in the season. I try not to think about that type of stuff. Of course, as a player, you'd love to win an MVP award, but I can't take my focus off the team."
He's backed up that sentiment with his play. Aside from scoring, he's averaging 6.3 assists over his last nine games - 1.5 more than he dished out in his first 32.
Durant has also shot 103 free throws in the last two weeks - 20 more than anyone else in the league.
"I'm being more comfortable trying to do different things," Durant said. "Whether it's scoring, whether it's rebounding, being a facilitator - I'm just going out there and really just having fun, to be honest."
After going 5-5 in their first 10 games without Russell Westbrook, the Thunder (31-10) have won three straight, though they're yet to enjoy any success this season against the Blazers (31-10).
Despite Durant's 35.0 points per game in two meetings, Portland has won both after Oklahoma City won the previous seven.
While Durant leads the league with 30.6 points per game, the Blazers are leading the way as a team at 109.6. That didn't help them Monday in a 126-113 loss at Houston that snapped a five-game winning streak.
LaMarcus Aldridge had 27 points and 20 rebounds while Damian Lillard scored 24, but the Rockets shot 52.3 percent and drained 16 3-pointers after scoring on their first 11 possessions.
"The disappointing thing from a defense standpoint is you know going into it that you have to limit their transition, you have to limit their 3s and we didn't do a good job of that or they did a good job, however you want to look at it," Portland coach Terry Stotts told the team's official website.
Aldridge is averaging 27.2 points and 15.2 rebounds in his last five games. In the two wins against the Thunder this season, he averaged 31.5 points and 13.5 boards.
His big rebounding night against the Rockets wasn't mirrored by his teammates as the Blazers were edged 52-37 on the glass. The Blazers (46.7 rebounds per game) now face the only team in the league ahead of them in that category (46.8).
"We've got to go in hungry and focus on being better than we were tonight," Aldridge said. "We've got to be better defensively and definitely have to start the game better."
Despite the loss to Houston, the Blazers went 2-1 on the Texas portion of their four-game road trip. Now they'll head to Oklahoma City, where the Thunder's 18-3 home record is tied with the Los Angeles Clippers for best in the Western Conference.
Portland, which won 98-94 at Chesapeake Energy Arena on Dec. 31, will try to become the first team to win twice in Oklahoma City since Dallas early in the 2010-11 season.
While the Thunder will be without Westbrook, the Blazers could be missing Nicolas Batum. Portland's starting small forward left Monday's game after aggravating a broken finger and didn't know if he would play.