Definitive Guide to Thunder vs. Blazers and Wednesday's NBA Action

Zach BuckleyNational NBA Featured ColumnistDecember 4, 2013

Definitive Guide to Thunder vs. Blazers and Wednesday's NBA Action

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    Sam Forencich/Getty Images

    Go ahead and give yourself a pat on the back.

    On second thought, wait until you know you're completely alone to make that move. You might have grandiose visions of one day trending on Twitter, but this is not the day nor the reason.

    Why the recommendation for some self love? Because you made it.

    It's not the end of the workweek, but Hump Day is close enough. After a turkey-infused, football-laced long weekend, the first few days back in the office can be a real drag.

    But the Association, and less importantly, your employer, appreciates the effort. Consider the NBA's eight-game slate on Wednesday as a token of that appreciation.

    Statements will be made tonight.

    The Los Angeles Clippers will try to make the A-Town a Doc Rivers-approved Lob City. The Minnesota Timberwolves will have the chance to convince Kevin Love of their winning ways when the San Antonio Spurs come to town. The Portland Trail Blazers-Oklahoma City Thunder clash might not have started the season on your radar, but it's there now—flashing lights, incessant beeps and all.

    So clear off the couch, hold off on that holiday shopping and enjoy everything the basketball gods have to offer.

    Then, in the privacy of your own home, feel free to start back-tapping away.

     

    Wednesday Night's Lineup

    Denver Nuggets vs. Cleveland Cavaliers, 7 p.m. ET

    Los Angeles Clippers vs. Atlanta Hawks, 7:30 p.m. ET

    Phoenix Suns vs. Houston Rockets, 8 p.m. ET

    Detroit Pistons vs. Milwaukee Bucks, 8 p.m. ET

    Dallas Mavericks vs. New Orleans Pelicans, 8 p.m. ET

    Indiana Pacers vs. Utah Jazz, 9 p.m. ET

    San Antonio Spurs vs. Minnesota Timberwolves, 9:30 p.m. ET (NBATV)

    Oklahoma City vs. Portland Trail Blazers, 10 p.m. ET

     

    *Unless otherwise noted, statistics used courtesy of Basketball-Reference.com and NBA.com.

Best Matchup of the Night: Oklahoma City Thunder vs. Portland Trail Blazers

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    Mark D. Smith-USA TODAY Sports

    Maybe you knew this game would have playoff implications.

    But you never would have guessed the magnitude of this matchup.

    Western Conference supremacy and Northwest Division bragging rights will both be in the line inside the Moda Center on Wednesday night.

    Each team brings a pair of top-25 scorers into this contest. Kevin Durant (28.2 points per game) is already clearing mantle space for yet another scoring title. LaMarcus Aldridge (22.7 points, 9.6 rebounds) is elevating a trade value...that might not even exist.

    The Blazers (15-3) are coming off their biggest signature win of the season, a 106-102 eye-opener over the Indiana Pacers on Monday.

    But the Thunder (13-3) have been sending their own messages with a league-best eight-game winning streak. Still, coach Scott Brooks is more focused on Portland's stretch of 13 wins in its last 14 games.

    At least, that's what he says.

    "We're playing one of the hottest teams in the game right now," Brooks said, via Noey Kupchan of the Associated Press. "But our team has always been up for challenges and definitely (Wednesday) night will be a tough challenge for us."

    What won't be tough about this game? Figuring out that it's well worth your time.

Must-See Individual Matchup: Ty Lawson vs. Kyrie Irving

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    Garrett Ellwood/Getty Images

    Remember when the post-Carmelo Anthony Denver Nuggets desperately needed a superstar on their roster? Or when Kyrie Irving was unquestionably the best young point guard in the league?

    Maybe those days haven't officially ended. But this head-to-head battle should shine plenty of light on both situations.

    If the Nuggets still don't have a superstar, then what label do we want to put on Ty Lawson? He's a top-25 scorer (20.2 points per game), a top-six setup man (8.1 assists) and, oh by the way, a .463/.373/.748 shooter.

    The numbers are there, and so is the excitement factor. He's a lightning bolt personified, hitting Usain Bolt speed with the basketball, but never losing control (13.8 turnover percentage).

    Irving's at the opposite end of the equation. He's been on the superstar podium before. Ask Brandon Knight about Irving's handles. Or ask the Pepsi Max crew about Uncle Drew's ability to get buckets.

    Only grabbing buckets no longer comes as easily as it did in the commercials. He's still peppering the stat sheet with 20.6 points a night, but he's quickly approaching the realm of volume scoring. His entire shooting slash (.401/.305/.795) comes in at career-low levels.

    Should we start printing out Lawson's superstar membership card? Are we ready to think about revoking Irving's?

    It's still too early to make a definitive statement about either. But that process will get a lot easier if you take advantage of this gift from the basketball gods and set your TV reminders now for this can't-miss clash.

Who Has the Most on the Line?

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    Scott Halleran/Getty Images

    Just when that preseason crown was starting to fit so well, the Houston Rockets go and yank it off their own heads.

    After stringing together five straight wins—four against possible playoff teams and another over the mediocre Brooklyn Nets—the Rockets fell flat on their faces with a 109-103 loss to the Utah Jazz on Monday night. Yes, the Jazz, who had one win in their first 15 games. 

    Maybe that was simply a trap game. Maybe Houston's luggage—or its defense—never made it out of San Antonio International Airport on Saturday.

    Whatever the case, a repeat performance cannot happen on Wednesday.

    The Phoenix Suns (9-9) are hardly pushovers. But they're not in Houston's class either.

    Even with a growing injury report (more on that later), the Rockets have an overwhelming edge in talent. The Suns don't have a body to bang with Dwight Howard—sorry, Miles Plumlee—nor a disciplined defender to void James Harden's express pass to the free-throw line.

    But Phoenix has heart, youthful athleticism and a class of Olympic-grade track stars.

    For coach Kevin McHale's sake, let's hope his Rockets are focused, hungry and ready to run. Hitting the century mark guarantees nothing; this could be a race to 120.

Injury Report

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    Layne Murdoch Jr./Getty Images

    Injuries are an unfortunate reality for professional athletes. So let's take a look at some of the most unfortunate realities that could diminish the playing field on Wednesday.

     

    Atlanta Hawks

    Kyle Korver (Rib)

    Korver's been a no-go in Atlanta's last four games, and the ominous questionable status hangs over his availability for Wednesday. If he isn't able to play, he won't be the only silky shooter held out.

     

    Denver Nuggets

    Nate Robinson (Wrist)

    Robinson told The Denver Post's Chris Dempsey that he will "be ready to play" against the Cavs on Wednesday. If this season has taught us anything, it's that we should all listen when Robinson speaks.

     

    Danilo Gallinari (Knee)

    Did I miss the start of Gallo watch? Per Dempsey, the Italian sniper still doesn't have a return date. But as Marc Berman of the New York Post noted, Gallinari is attempting to squash the rumors that he won't play at some point this season.

     

    JaVale McGee (Leg)

    Still waiting for an update on the stress fracture that has kept McGee out of action since Nov. 8. Man, what I wouldn't give to be a fly on the wall in Denver's training room. Or a Timofey Mozgov fantasy owner.

     

    Detroit Pistons

    Chauncey Billups (Knee)

    Pistons.com's Keith Langlois reported on Nov. 29 that Billups hadn't yet done any running. Not sure if that's a reference to his rehab—he's been out since Nov. 12—or his age. Either way, he's officially questionable for Wednesday.

     

    Houston Rockets

    Chandler Parsons (Back)

    Parsons was a game-time decision, via Jenny Dial Creech, before ultimately sitting out Houston's loss in Utah on Monday. He's questionable again heading into Wednesday night.

     

    Jeremy Lin (Knee)

    Lin's still more than a week away from having his right knee sprain reevaluated, via ESPN.com.

    Interesting note: One Rockets player has appeared in each of Houston's 19 games—Dwight Howard. Because of course.

     

    Los Angeles Clippers

    J.J. Redick (Wrist)

    The sharpshooter is taking his talents to...the training table. That's where he'll spend at least the next six to eight weeks with a fractured wrist, per an official team release.

     

    New Orleans Pelicans

    Anthony Davis (Hand)

    Seriously, who angered the basketball gods? Whoever it was is officially off my Christmas card list. Davis is the latest superstar to fall this season. The one-browed baller has a "non-displaced fracture" in his left hand and is out indefinitely.

     

    *Unless otherwise noted, injury information obtained via CBS Sports.

Pop-in Potential: Los Angeles Clippers vs. Atlanta Hawks

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    Scott Cunningham/Getty Images

    I shouldn't have to convince you to watch this game, right?

    I mean, you have a top-four team from each conference battling head-to-head. Doesn't really get much better than that, does it?

    So, maybe that statement is a bit skewed. After all, the Atlanta Hawks (9-10) would be making vacation plans, not planning for home-court advantage, if they played out West.

    Seriously, though, it'd be tough coming up with much better ways to spend your Wednesday evening than watching this.

    Al Horford (17.1 points, 7.9 rebounds) and Jeff Teague (17.4 points, 8.1 assists) is the best inside-out tandem that no one's talking about. Not even the folks in Atlanta apparently.

    But those two will have their hands full with Blake Griffin (21.2 points, 11.1 rebounds) and Chris Paul (18.9 points, 12.1 assists).

    Throw an underrated Paul Millsap, an overlooked DeAndre Jordan, a healthy Louis Williams and an always entertaining Jamal Crawford into the mix, and you have the recipe for one heck of a game.

Fantasy Stock Watch

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    Cameron Browne/Getty Images

    This is just about the perfect setup for fantasy basketball owners.

    Wednesday's eight-game schedule won't overwhelm you with options, but it shouldn't restrict your roster, either.

    That's probably a good thing. I'm sure many of you are busy scouring the waiver wire for that final piece to your fantasy football playoff puzzle.

    But don't forget to plug your basketball lineup in place first. Here are a few helpful hints to get you started.

     

    The Big Guns

    Paul George

    George is making a furious push to become the league's first repeat Most Improved Player award winner. For the second straight season, the silky smooth swingman has shattered his career ceiling.

    And guess what? He's coming off the heels of his best game of this breakout campaign part two.

    While his Indiana Pacers came out on the wrong side of the scoreboard on Monday, George himself was spectacular. He poured in 43 points, hitting 16-of-30 from the field and a Stephen Curry-esque 7-of-15 from distance.

    The only thing capping his production on Wednesday is the game's potential to get out of hand quickly. Still, this Utah Jazz defense is bad enough (107.2 points allowed per 100 possessions, 29th) that George won't need many minutes to fill his stat sheet.

     

    Monta Ellis

    Ellis has always been a loaded gun. But playing with Dirk Nowitzki and the Dallas Mavericks have helped with both his accuracy and his often-itchy trigger finger.

    His scoring has held steady through the transition (21.9 points per game), but his shooting percentages (.475/.362/.850) and efficiency (career-best 19.1 player efficiency rating) have soared.

    He's been a gold mine for fantasy owners, and not just in the scoring department. He's had at least 22 points, five rebounds and five assists in each of his last two starts.

    He'll get his points on Wednesday. Neither his Mavericks nor the Minnesota Timberwolves have any problems engaging in a track meet.

    But this season, he'll get his owners so much more than that. Monta Ellis' fantasy owners, congratulations—you finally have it all.

     

    The Sleeper

    Reggie Jackson

    The Portland Trail Blazers really do live and die by the three ball. They shoot it at every opportunity and go to extreme lengths to keep opposing teams from doing the same.

    That's no problem for Jackson. He's not one to force a three-point stroke that he doesn't have (25.7 percent).

    An overzealous, often leaky Portland defense (103.1 points allowed per 100 trips, 22nd) should be exploited by Oklahoma City's other athletically gifted point guard. Jackson takes good shots (48.7 field-goal percentage), and he should find plenty of them on Wednesday.

    As long as Russell Westbrook doesn't try to go shot-for-shot with Damian Lillard, Jackson's owners should be primed for a big day.