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Game of the Night: Portland Trail Blazers vs Oklahoma City Thunder

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.

April 12, 2013; Portland, OR, USA; Oklahoma City Thunder small forward Kevin Durant (35) is fouled by Portland Trail Blazers power forward LaMarcus Aldridge (12) as he drives to the basket during the first quarter of the game at the Rose Garden. Mandatory Credit: Steve Dykes-USA TODAY Sports

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.

Coverage: NBATV

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Pass of the Night: D.J. Augustin to Taj Gibson (Video)

The Chicago Bulls, understandably, have had a rough go of things since Derrick Rose went down with another knee injury a while back.

They’ve dealt with injuries to other players, as well as not having a serviceable point guard to replace Rose. Mike James and Marquis Teague, who were the backups, simply weren’t cutting it.

Teague has since been sent down to the D-League, while James was recently cut, leaving the team with no true point guard.

With James cut, the team brought in D.J. Augustin to run the point for the foreseeable future. Augustin has struggled in his time in the pros, but he is at least a true point guard, something the team was lacking.

Last night, the Bulls traveled to Memphis to take on the Grizzlies, in what would be Augustin’s ninth game with the club. He played fairly well off the bench, scoring 10 points and handing out 9 assists. One of those assists was even good enough to grab the spot on Pass of the Night.

Early in the 2nd quarter, Jon Leuer picked up a loose ball after Ed Davis had rejected a shot. Looking to give the ball up to his point guard, Jerryd Bayless, Leuer threw a pass up ahead, but wasn’t aware of Augustin lurking near by.

Augustin picked off the pass and then put on a show. Driving to his right, he faked a behind-the-back pass, getting him past Leuer. In the end, however, he did throw a behind-the-back pass to Taj Gibson, who slammed it home for two.

 

This is the last day of December, and as such, is the last day of Pass of the Night. Thank you for your support of the series. The feature is not gone forever, but is simply taking a break.

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The Pelicans Jazz Up The Pick And Roll, Joel Freeland Gets Baptized

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The New Orleans Pelicans like to run pick-and-rolls a lot. In fact, through their 29 games so far this season, they've used it in 35.3 percent of their offensive sets because it's been that good to them. A lot of that has to do with the fact that they acquired the pick-and-roll fiend that is Jrue Holiday in the off-season.