The Portland Trail Blazers (31-10) will travel to the Midwest on Tuesday to take on the Oklahoma City Thunder (31-10) for a clash between two of the best teams in the Western Conference.
Portland came away victorious in each of its previous two matchups with OKC this season. The Trail Blazers won at home on Dec. 4 (111-104) and in Chesapeake Energy Arena on Dec. 31 (98-94).
In those two wins, LaMarcus Aldridge dominated the Thunder on the interior by averaging 31.5 points and 13.5 rebounds per game.
If Oklahoma City hopes to even the regular-season series at two games apiece before the end of the season, Serge Ibaka and Kendrick Perkins will have to find a way to slow the opposing big man down.
Since the Trail Blazers will be playing the second game of a back-to-back situation after a 126-113 loss against the Houston Rockets on Monday, there’s no excuse for the Thunder to drop to 0-3 against Portland.
When: Tuesday, Jan. 21, 8:00 p.m. ET
Where: Chesapeake Energy Arena, Oklahoma City, Okla.
Watch: Local Stations (CSNN or FSOK)
Trail Blazers Injury Report (via CBS Sports)
No injuries reported
Thunder Injury Report (via CBS Sports)
PG Russell Westbrook, Out, Knee
Trail Blazers Player to Watch: LaMarcus Aldridge
Again, LaMarcus Aldridge is averaging 31.5 points and 13.5 rebounds against the Thunder during the 2013-14 season.
He put on a show for his home fans on Dec. 4 by scoring 38 points on 17-of-28 shooting to complement 13 rebounds, five assists and two steals. His tremendous performance even earned “MVP!” chants from the crowd.
“Just surreal. It was humbling to have that moment here,” Aldridge said of the fans’ reaction after the win, per the Associated Press (via ESPN). “I’ve been here so long and I’ve had very few of those type of chants here. So that was fun. I thought that made the night complete for me.”
The 28-year-old has looked incredibly comfortable playing against OKC this season even though the Thunder have one of the league’s best shot-blockers and overall defenders in Ibaka.
It will be interesting to see if OKC’s head coach Scott Brooks makes adjustments to stifle Aldridge's dominance.
Thunder Player to Watch: Kevin Durant
Kevin Durant is on an absolute tear.
In January, OKC’s superstar is averaging 36.1 points, 6.1 assists, 5.7 rebounds, 1.8 steals and shooting 50.5 percent from the field. His dominant performance to ring in the New Year was highlighted by a 54-point explosion in a win over the Golden State Warriors, which was a career high.
For his hot streak from Jan. 13 through Jan. 19—when he led Oklahoma City to a 3-1 record without Westbrook—KD was named NBA Player of the Week in the Western Conference.
Durant is playing arguably the best basketball of his entire professional career right now, which is downright scary.
He’s raised his level of play in every conceivable way since Westbrook went down with his third knee surgery of 2013, and that’s exactly what coach Brooks needs from him.
Key Matchup: Damian Lillard vs. Reggie Jackson
While Aldridge is likely haunting Oklahoma City's nightmares at this point, Damian Lillard hasn't played his best basketball against the Western Conference foe.
In the two previous matchups with the Thunder, Lillard is averaging 17.5 points, 8.5 assists and 3.5 rebounds while shooting a woeful 34.4 percent from the field. Portland's floor general has racked up plenty of assists by dishing the ball to Aldridge, but his scoring efficiency has been admittedly poor.
On Dec. 4 (against Russell Westbrook), Lillard finished with 14 points, six assists and one rebound. On Dec. 31 (against Reggie Jackson), Lillard notched 21 points, 11 assists and six rebounds.
Portland's point guard performed far better against Jackson than he did against Westbrook, so this is undoubtedly the key matchup to watch out for.
Jackson has been inconsistent in January, usually following a good game with a poor one. Defending against one of the best young floor generals in the game won't be an easy task.
There are two key X-factors that go into predicting the outcome of this game.
First, Portland will be playing the second game of a back-to-back after facing the Houston Rockets on Monday. Playing two days in a row is tough no matter what, but jumping from the Rockets to the Thunder is just plain cruel.
Second, Westbrook is out for OKC. The Thunder are 6-4 in January without him, and even though they've rattled off three straight wins, a subpar game from the supporting cast around Durant usually translates to a loss.
KD can't do it all by himself (and trust me, he's nearly doing so). Jackson, Ibaka and others will have to contribute if Oklahoma City is going to exploit a fatigued Trail Blazers team.
Ultimately, I think the schedule favors OKC in this one. Portland's bench ranks 29th in the NBA by scoring 23.9 points per game, according to Hoops Stats. Having that second unit in the second game of a back-to-back certainly isn't favorable.
Thunder 106 - Trail Blazers 99