OKLAHOMA CITY THUNDER (35-25)
at PORTLAND TRAIL BLAZERS (24-35)
Tip-off: Thursday, 10:30 p.m. ET
Line: Portland -1, Total: 219
Russell Westbrook looks for his fifth straight triple-double tonight in Portland.
The Thunder won their fourth straight game on Tuesday night, making a statement with a 109-106 home win over an excellent Utah team (OKC +2.5). With the win, Oklahoma City improved its record to 35-25, which puts them at No. 7 in the West and within 1.5 games of the fourth-place Jazz. At 34-25-1 against the spread, OKC has the sixth-best ATS record in the NBA this season. They’ll hit the road on Thursday for a matchup with the Trail Blazers, who have lost two straight and five of their last six after falling 120-113 in overtime at Detroit on Tuesday (DET -4). They’re still within 3.5 games of the No. 8 spot in the West at 24-35, but their 23-36 ATS mark is the second worst in the entire league, indicating a failure to live up to expectations this year. Over the last five seasons, road teams with winning records that have covered the spread in six or seven of their last eight games (OKC) are 41-79 ATS when the line is between +3 and -3. In the same time frame, games played at least 42 games into the year involving a team averaging at least 102.0 PPG and having scored at least 55 points in the first halves of each of their last two games (OKC) and a team allowing at least 102.0 PPG (POR) are 142-86 Under against the total. SG Victor Oladipo has missed three straight games with a back injury and is questionable for Oklahoma City on Thursday night. SG Evan Turner is coming up on a month out of the lineup with a fracture in his hand, and it was announced Wednesday that Portland has lost PF Ed Davis for the season so he can have shoulder surgery.
In a year in which Thunder PG Russell Westbrook (31.2 PPG, 10.6 RPG, 10.3 APG, 1.6 SPG) has played at a sustained level of excellence that few thought possible, his performance against the Jazz stands out as a peak among peaks. He put up 43 points, 11 boards and 10 assists, with 12 of his points coming in the final 2:05 of the game. It was his fourth straight triple-double and his 30th of the season. He’s now piloting a team that looks substantially different than a week ago, as PG Cameron Payne, C Joffrey Lauvergne and SG Anthony Morrow were flipped for SF Doug McDermott (10.1 PPG, 3.1 RPG) and PF Taj Gibson (11.4 PPG, 6.8 RPG). The trade was widely lauded as a good move for the Thunder, and it added much-needed depth to the frontcourt. Both new additions have come off the bench in each of their three games with the team, and McDermott’s 16 points were key in the Utah victory. The team also got C Enes Kanter (14.3 PPG, 6.8 RPG) back after the All-Star break, after he had missed nearly a month with a self-inflicted injury. He’s known for scoring and rebounding in bunches in limited minutes, and he delivered with 15 and nine in 27 minutes against Utah. Starting in place of Oladipo (16.1 PPG, 4.4 RPG, 1.2 SPG), SG Alex Abrines (5.9 PPG) has averaged 14.3 PPG in his last three games. SF Andre Roberson (6.8 PPG, 5.2 RPG, 1.2 SPG, 1.0 BPG), PF Domantas Sabonis (6.0 PPG, 3.7 RPG) and C Steven Adams (12.1 PPG, 7.9 RPG, 1.1 SPG, 1.1 BPG) have started in the frontcourt all season, although some think Gibson will replace the rookie Sabonis in the starting five at some point.
From a franchise-building perspective, many onlookers are concerned that the Trail Blazer’s two star players, PG Damian Lillard (26.0 PPG, 5.0 RPG, 5.8 APG) and SG C.J. McCollum (23.3 PPG, 3.6 RPG, 3.5 APG, 1.0 SPG) are very similar players, from their volume perimeter scoring to their subpar perimeter defense. But, at least on the offensive end of the court, their skill sets certainly don’t cancel each other out. Take Tuesday night’s game against Detroit, for example, when Lillard scored 34, McCollum dropped 25 and the pair combined to shoot 23-of-42 from the floor (54.8%). Lillard also almost tallied a triple-double with 11 assists and nine rebounds. Then again, Portland gave up 120 points (109 in regulation) and lost the game to a sub-.500 team. At this point, the duo’s immense offensive talents aren’t enough to overcome the combination of their defensive inadequacies and, more crucially, the lack of talent around them. Last month, the team traded C Mason Plumlee (10.7 PPG, 7.8 RPG, 3.9 APG, 1.1 BPG), arguably their third best player, to Denver for C Jusuf Nurkic (8.4 PPG, 4.9 RPG) and a draft pick. The move appears to have made the team weaker in the short-term, but Nurkic is younger than Plumlee and, unlike Plumlee, does not have a free agency payday quickly approaching. Nurkic had his best game as a Blazer against Detroit, putting up 19 points, seven rebounds and five assists in 35 minutes of action. Losing Turner (9.7 PPG, 3.8 RPG, 3.4 APG) cost the team some of its playmaking on the wing, but the team is pretty deep there—SF Maurice Harkless (10.7 PPG, 4.8 RPG, 1.2 SPG) starts while SG Allen Crabbe (10.3 PPG) and SF Al-Farouq Aminu (8.3 PPG, 7.4 RPG, 1.0 SPG) come off the bench. PF Noah Vonleh (3.3 PPG) has been starting recently, although tends to get significantly fewer minutes than the rest of the starters. PF Meyers Leonard (5.5 PPG, 3.3 RPG) and PG Shabazz Napier (3.5 PPG) contribute off the pine.