The Oklahoma City Thunder have a chance to finish off 2013 with a big win against the Portland Trail Blazers. A win Tuesday night will give the Thunder a 2.5 game lead over their division foe who has taken the NBA by storm this year.
The Thunder will be playing their third game since star guard Russell Westbrook had his third knee surgery since April. So far, they are 2-0 after earning a four-point win in Charlotte against the Bobcats and beating the Houston Rockets by 31 points at home. The Trail Blazers, on the other hand, have lost two straight games for the first time this season after Chris Bosh beat them with a buzzer-beater three nights ago and a Tyreke Evans jumper with 1.2 seconds left clinched a win for the Pelican on Monday night in New Orleans.
Kevin Durant has cranked it up a notch these past two games without his partner in crime Westbrook, scoring 33.5 points, 12.5 rebounds and 5.5 assists per night. Durant had 33 points, seven rebounds and four turnovers in the 111-104 loss to the Trail Blazers earlier this season. Look for him to try and take more care of the ball and facilitate his teammates more, especially since there is no Westrbook to help him do so. Durant had zero assists in that first meeting on December 4th.
A key matchup to look out for is Damian Lillard vs Reggie Jackson at the point guard spot. Jackson has had a great year off the bench so far. His 12.6 points, 3.6 assists and 3.8 rebounds per night have had many putting him as an early front-runner for the Sixth Man of the Year award. Now he is in the starting lineup replacing Westbrook. In his first game as a starter against Charlotte, he wasn’t too good scoring 10 points on 4-19 shooting, but he also had six rebounds, three assists and no turnovers. On Sunday night against the Rockets, Jackson did a lot better, scoring 16 points on 7-12 shooting to go along with 8 assists and no turnovers. The Thunder won that game by 31 and only beat the Bobcats by four when he played poorly. Jackson will have to continue to take care of the ball and try and balance out a good performance from Lillard, who struggled the first time the two teams met, scoring just 14 points on 4-14 shooting.
The Pick: LaMarcus Aldridge had one of his best games of the season the last time these two teams met, scoring 38 points on 17-28 shooting and grabbing 10 rebounds. He didn’t get much help from the rest of his teammates, who shot 27-70 combined from the field. The Thunder have the second best field goal percentage defense in the league at 41.5 percent, so a shooting team like Portland will need to come out and establish their high powered offense early. The Thunder have also only allowed 85 and 86 points in their past two games, their opponents combining to shoot 37 percent in those two games. Expect a big night from Durant and Aldridge, and an efficient night from Jackson. The Thunder are 14-1 at home this season and the Blazers are playing their third game in four days. I think the Thunder take this one in a close one, 103-98.
Where: Chesapeake Energy Arena, Oklahoma City, Oklahoma
When: 8 p.m.