Photo / Bruce Ely

Four-Game Road Trip Begins With Visit To OKC

Winners in five of their last seven, the Portland Trail Blazers (21-18) begin a four-game trek through the Western Conference with a visit to the Oklahoma City Thunder (22-18) Tuesday night. The two sides met previously on November 5, with Portland claiming a 103-99 home victory. 

Damian Lillard, CJ McCollum and Jusuf Nurkić combined for 83 points, 17 assists and 16 rebounds in the previous matchup with the Thunder two months ago. Lillard, however, will miss his seventh game out of nine and his second consecutive contest with a right calf strain. In Lillard’s absence, point guard Shabazz Napier has averaged 17.5 points and 5.3 assists running the teams offense. 

As a team, the Trail Blazers are averaging 24.7 assists per game in four games since January 1 — the tenth best clip in the league. Prior to that, Portland averaged an NBA-worst 18.1 assists per game. The improved passing has provided a needed spark for the Blazer offense. 

“I’ve been encouraged by our passing over the last three or four games,” head coach Terry Stotts said Monday after the team’s practice in Oklahoma City. “I don’t care if [the passes] are fancy or not, as long as they get there.”

Oklahoma City has lost three of five, following Sunday’s 114-110 road loss to the Phoenix Suns. Reigning NBA Most Valuable Player Russell Westbrook leads the Thunder with 24.9 points, 10.1 assists and 9.6 rebounds per game. Newcomers and perennial All-Stars Paul George and Carmelo Anthony combine for 38.5 points per game. 

Tuesday tipoff is scheduled for 5:00 p.m. Pacific from Chesapeake Energy Arena in Oklahoma City. Kevin Calabro, Lamar Hurd and Brooke Olzendam provide coverage on NBC Sports Northwest, while Scott Lynn and Casey Holdahl call the action on Rip City Radio 620.