OKC vs. POR Preview – Northwest Division New Year’s Clash

At Chesapeake Energy Arena tonight, the Thunder hopes to ring in the New Year with great defense, crisp offense, and another home victory.

Not only is each of the 82 games in the regular season important to the final standings and potential playoff seeding, but also to the continuing evolution and development of the Thunder as a team. Head Coach Scott Brooks’ club stands at 25-5, but leaders like Kevin Durant want his team to continue to improve as the season goes along. The Thunder currently has one of the premier defenses in the league, holding opponents to under 42 percent shooting, but he believes that the Thunder’s work in protecting the paint and preventing opponents from getting high percentage looks can still get better.

“We have to try to keep them out of our paint, but when they do, we want to use our verticality and not foul, then contest at the rim,” Durant said. “As perimeter guys we have to do a better job of keeping teams out of our paint.”

As for tonight’s contest, the Thunder has to contend with one of the best teams not only in the Northwest Division, but in the entire NBA. Led by LaMarcus Aldridge and Damian Lillard, the 24-7 Blazers own one of the top records in the league and boast the top scoring offense.

Aldridge’s mid-range game has been lights out this season, so the Thunder will try to take the ball out of his hands and get him off of his spots on the floor. The Thunder can use Serge Ibaka, Kendrick Perkins, Nick Collison and others to matchup down the court with Aldridge. Thanks to the Thunder’s flexibility and versatility on defense, it has a bevy of options in defending Aldridge and other potent scorers like Lillard, Wesley Matthews, Nicolas Batum, Robin Lopez and Mo Williams.

“You have to live with those when he’s hitting tough shots over a contest,” Durant said. “We just have to make it a little tougher on him and hopefully he’ll miss those (shots) this game.”

“They have a good team,” Durant explained. “Lillard is their best player because he sets up everything for LaMarcus. He shoots the big shots and he’s always handling the ball. The guy who is handling the ball is the biggest problem.”

In the Notes:

- The Thunder is 0-1 against the Blazers so far this season, and overall is 12-9 against Portland.

- The Thunder is 15-0 when registering the same number or more assists than its opponent.

- The Thunder is 18-3 when scoring more points in the paint than its opponent.

Broadcast Info:

7:00 p.m. CT. TV – Fox Sports Oklahoma and NBATV, Radio – 98.1 FM The Sports Animal, Thunder Radio Network