Thunder Ready For Blazers

The Oklahoma City Thunder will play arguably the biggest game of their six game homestand tonight with Northwest Division rival Portland in town and a national television audience watching. This morning at shoot-around though players were loosey-goosey and having fun when reporters were allowed in toward the end of the session.

“Hey that’s how we roll,” joked a smiling Thunder Head Coach Scott Brooks. “We have a group that loves to compete and loves to have fun at the same time which I don’t mind as long as for 48 minutes they’re serious and their spirit of competition is at a high level. But they do enjoy being around each other.”

The Thunder and the Trail Blazers are Northwest Division rivals who haven’t seen each other in a while. The Thunder won each of the first two meetings when the teams played two games in the span of a week back in November. Now the situation is similar. The Thunder and Blazers will play tonight in Oklahoma City and again on Friday in Portland and both squads are much different from those first two meetings.

“They made the trade for (Gerald) Wallace and he’s starting at (power forward) so it just gives them a different look,” Brooks said, “and it’s a look that’s been working for them.”

Point guard Andre Miller is now starting in place of Brandon Roy who continues to battle knee problems. His playing time has been limited to coming off the bench. Center/power forward Marcus Camby also comes off the bench now.

“They’ve always been a physical team, they’ve always been very good at executing what they want to do and defensively they’re solid. We expect it’s going be a hard fought game that goes down to the last seconds.”

The stakes are high for both teams. Portland is trying to better its playoff positioning. The Thunder is trying to hold on to first place in the division and can clinch a spot in the playoffs with a win over Portland coupled with losses tonight by either Memphis (vs San Antonio), Houston (at Miami) or New Orleans (at LA Lakers)

“I haven’t discussed it (clinching the playoffs) with our guys,” Brooks told reporters, “but it’s a great opportunity if we do clinch it but it’s more important for us just to improve and use these last regular season games to get better.”

One thing Brooks will remind his players about is if the Thunder has what may appear to be a comfortable lead late in the game the Blazers will not be a team that rolls over. Portland staged a stunning comeback against San Antonio on Friday night roaring back from six points down with 40 seconds to play.

“Never give up, that’s gotta be your attitude. That was an amazing way for them to finish that game. They had opportunities to say this is over, let’s move on to the next game but they finished it out. San Antonio gave ‘em some help but they did it.”

The Trail Blazers come in hot, having won seven of their last 10 and Coach Brooks admits they will present challenges in several areas.

“Andre Miller is a crafty point guard he has a lot of tricks to his game he finds them a lot of easy buckets with his lobs and his passing. They have a great 3-point shooting two guard in (Wesley) Matthews he shoots over 40% on 3’s, (Nicolas) Batum is a good defender and a 3-point corner shooter, (Gerald) Wallace is a great transition player and offensive rebounder and (LeMarcus) Aldridge is really playing good basketball, he’s been playing at an All-Star level. They’re a playoff team that can give you a lot of trouble.”

Remember tip-off is an hour later than the usual Sunday start, 7 PM inside Oklahoma City Arena. You can watch all the action on Fox Sports Oklahoma nor listen in on the Thunder Radio Network.

NOTES:

* The first two games against Portland were nail-biters. The Thunder won by a combined three points, 107-106 at Portland on November 4th and 110-108 in OKC on November 12th.
* Kevin Durant has averaged 30.8 points in his last five games against the Trail Blazers.
* Oklahoma City is 5-1 with Kendrick Perkins in the starting lineup and during those six games the Thunder has held opponents to 91.3 points on just 42.9% shooting. Over the last 10 games the Trail Blazers are giving up an average of just 87 points per game.
* The NBA on ESPN RV will be parked outside Oklahoma City Arena on Reno Avenue before and during the game. Fans can tour the RV and will have a chance to grab some giveaways.