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

December 1, 2013; Los Angeles, CA, USA; Portland Trail Blazers point guard Damian Lillard (0) moves the ball up court against the Los Angeles Lakers during the first half at Staples Center. Mandatory Credit: Gary A. Vasquez-USA TODAY Sports

Hey! This Wednesday has some pretty interesting games. Good thing, because I was getting a bit nervous that we wouldn’t have a premier game. Denver-Cleveland and Clippers-Atlanta are the early games (7:00pm and 7:30pm et, respectively), and I recommend watching both. The Kyrie rule applies, but also, Ty Lawson and TImofey Mozgov are doing some fun things now. Lawson is attacking the rim with glee, while Mozgov, affectionately called Mozzy, is offering Denver rim protection and rebounding. As for Clippers-Hawks, Chris Paul and Jeff Teague leading two top ten offenses, Al Horford and Blake Griffin working and passing in the low-post? I’d be shocked if that game wasn’t fun from a passing standpoint.

Like I do every week, neither of these games are the Game of the Night, however. My original pick -Minnesota versus San Antonio- isn’t it either, although I suggest you watch that game as well. Duncan looked rejuvinated against the Atlanta Hawks, putting up a classic 20-20 Duncan performance, and added a game-winner on top of that. Kevin Love and the Timberwolves have taken a small step back (or played better opponents over the last five games), but they still seem to be playoff contenders in the West. A win over San Antonio would boost morale and give them a big win moving forward.

The Game of the Night will be the Oklahoma City Thunder against the Portland Trail Blazers.

Both Portland and Oklahoma City share the Northwest division, but the storyline will be “Is Portland a contender or pretender?”. The Thunder, led by Durant and Westbrook, are contenders. However, the upstart Portland Trail Blazers’ status is still TBD. The Blazers are third in offensive efficiency, third in three-point shooting percentage, and sport the third-highest point differential in the Western Conference. Still, the Blazers have some questions, mainly on the defensive end. Portland is 22nd in the league in defensive efficiency, but rank third in opponent three-point percentage. While Nicolas Batum and Wes Matthews are decent defenders, they aren’t elite wing defenders. Robin Lopez is a solid defensive big man, but he can’t anchor a defense the way a Tyson Chandler can, and that will be a problem if his production dips.

From an offensive standpoint, the Blazers are exciting. LaMarcus Aldridge (22.7 points, 9.6 rebounds) is leading this team offensively, Nicolas Batum (13.4 points, 6.3 rebounds, 5.1 assists) plays the role of a swiss army knife, changing his duties from dependent scorer, to facilitator, to rebounder, depending on the situation. While he isn’t shooting well overall, Damian Lillard (20.6 points, 5.7 assists, 4.1 rebounds) is continuing to man Portland’s point guard spot, and he’s also shooting the ball well from three, averaging 40% on six attempts this season. Wesley Matthews is playing at an all-star level, but more importantly, he’s shooting 50% from three. Both Mo Williams and Dorrell Wright are shooting over 35% from three, and when you combine both with Matthews’ shooting, you get three guys who can stretch the floor, allowing Lillard to attack the basket, or Aldridge to get his shot from mid-range.

As for Oklahoma City, I wrote about them against San Antonio, thinking the Spurs would get the win. The Thunder are getting into that Spursian level where they just keep chugging along. The Thunder are really good. Check that, the Thunder are superb, and I see them as the clear favorites to come out of the Western Conference. Westbrook’s play is a bit concerning, but my prevailing thought is: “He’s Westbrook, he’ll eventually snap out of it.” Kevin Durant is playing like the second-best player in the world, and Serge Ibaka continues to work on the defensive end. Those three allow their supporting class to slowly find their spots. We know about Nick Collison and Reggie Jackson, but it’s Jeremy Lamb’s emergence as a bench option and Steven Adams’ ability to get minutes and offer rebounding and defense that allows Oklahoma City to continue without much fanfare. At the very worst, I see the Thunder in the Western Conference Finals.

The Pick:  I’m going with Portland. The Blazers are the home team, and I almost always go with the home team. Along with their rambunctious fans cheering them on, the Blazers want to continue their hot start, as well as show that they’re contenders in the West. Winning games over Indiana and Oklahoma City in a three-day span would go along way to making us believe. I say Portland wins a great game, headlined by an excellent performance from Damian Lillard. Blazers 114, Thunder 110.

 

National TV: None

Local TV: FSOK (Oklahoma City) | KGW (Portland) | League Pass! 

Time: 10:00 p.m. ET

qhaynes