Blazers (24-7, 12-4 road) vs. Thunder (25-5, 14-1 home)
Offensive Rating: Thunder – 109.0 (4th), Blazers – 113.7 (1st)
Defensive Rating: Thunder – 100.3 (2nd), Blazers – 107.7 (24th)
Pace: Thunder – 96.6 (5th), Blazers – 94.6 (14th)
The Thunder don’t have a lot of traditions quite yet, but one they certainly take pride in is their annual New Year’s Eve game. They’re 5-0 in them, but tonight might put that perfect record to the test. The Blazers are on a back-to-back, coming off a physical game in New Orleans last night, but they’re eager to bounce back and plus, they’re a really good team.
This is two straight home games the Thunder have had the good fortune of playing an unrested opponent. But then again, remember, the Thunder lost to the Blazers a few weeks ago on the second of a back-to-back.
Portland coming in: Lost to the Pelicans last night
Three Big Things
1. Lillard. Russell Westbrook isn’t a great defensive player by any means, but he certainly can get up for a big matchup against another good point guard. He makes the matchup personal, he makes it physical and he mostly just plays harder than them. But without Westbrook, the matchup falls on Reggie Jackson. Damian Lillard isn’t elite quite yet, but he can win games on his own. Going under screens is dangerous against him and his midrange game in the pick-and-roll is tough.
2. LMA. Aldridge was the difference-maker in the first matchup. The Thunder tried to play small against the Blazers, but Serge Ibaka and Nick Collison struggled to slow him down. Kendrick Perkins often gets the assignment against Aldridge because he can frustrate and annoy him, but the Thunder are going to have to find someone that can at least slow him.
3. Defend. The Blazers rank second in offensive rating. The Rockets were third coming in. The Thunder set an incredible tone early and while I wouldn’t expect OKC to hold Portland without a point for six minutes tonight, establishing a defensive mindset is big. The Thunder might be able to outscore Portland, but without Westbrook, that’s dicey. Defense is where they need to be good.
Tip at 7:00 CT. Go 2014.