Originally written on NorthWest Sports Beat  |  Last updated 1/13/13
Tough stretch The Portland Trail Blazers split a back-to-back against the Miami Heat and the Golden State Warriors heading into the weekend, but things aren’t slowing down, as the Oklahoma City Thunder are set to enter the Rose Garden Sunday night. Matchup: Portland (20-16) vs. Oklahoma City Thunder (28-8) Venue: Rose Garden Time: 6:00 PM PT Date: Sunday, Jan. 13, 2013 The defending Western Conference champions have played some competitive games against Portland in the past, and while the Blazers have a whole new look about them this season, don’t think that they’ll let up in their first trip to Pacific Northwest of 2013. The Blazers have grown up quickly since last playing the Thunder. (Photo: Sue Ogrocki/AP) Game Notes/How They Match Up The Trail Blazers and the Thunder faced off in just the second game of the season, and while Portland hung around most of the way, their youth and inexperience let OKC take over late. It’s safe to say that we’ve watched this young Blazers team grow throughout the year, and they’re much more equipped to play down the stretch now compared to early in the season. Where the Thunder won the first time was efficiency. Portland completed just 36 percent of its shots from the field, yet it gave up better than 51 percent to Oklahoma City. What to Watch: Portland The big question following Friday night’s matchup is, will anybody help Damian Lillard? To say that Damian Lillard is the only player on this team who can score is an extreme exaggeration, as we’ve seen major outbursts from LaMarcus Aldridge, Nicolas Batum, Wesley Matthews and J.J. Hickson throughout the year.But in the game against the Warriors, Nicolas Batum was the only other player to put together a decent scoring output, and as a result, the team had to make up too much ground too late in the contest. The Blazers finished the game against Golden State having shot just 38 percent from the field. They missed 27 of their first 35 shots, they made just 15 of their 43 three-point attempts and LaMarcus Aldridge contributed just seven points on 3-of-4 shooting. The Thunder are a better defensive group than the Warriors, and if the Blazers hope to play the role of spoiler, they’ll have to get production from more than just one player. What to Watch: Oklahoma City The Thunder are the No. 1 scoring team in the NBA this season, and there are four big reasons why. Kevin Durant, Russell Westbrook, Kevin Martin and Serge Ibaka. The Big Four in OKC accounts for 80 points per game, which is more than 75 percent of their total scoring output. This team has the role players to keep them balanced, but if you shut down one of their go-to scorers, they’ll have a much more difficult time running you out of the gym. Nicolas Batum has to play better than he did the last time he faced off against Kevin Durant. (Photo: Troy Wayrynen) Behind the Big Four, only two players on the roster are averaging more than five points per game. The Blazers need to prove that they can play defense against the league’s best offense, and if they can force one of their opponent’s top scorers into a rough night, it will be a much closer game than the stats indicate it should be. Key Matchup Nicolas Batum earned himself a big-time contact this past summer, and so far, he’s lived up to expectations. He’s the team’s third-leading scorer, he’s the second-highest assist-getter and he looks much more comfortable than he’s looked running the offense in years past. His performance this season has been what Rip City hoped to see, but he’ll have his hands full against one of the league’s best players in Kevin Durant Sunday night. Durant and Batum are both lengthy small forwards who have the ability to go off on offense. The problem for Portland is that the last time these teams played, Durant had 23 points, 17 rebounds and seven assists while Batum was held to just three points on 1-of-11 shooting. Since then, Batum has shown he’s capable of putting up big numbers, and he’ll have to prove it once again if he hopes to keep up with Durant this time. Injury Report Portland: DAY-TO-DAY—LaMarcus Aldridge Oklahoma City: N/A Prediction The Blazers have been great at home this season, and they’ve been unexpectedly good in close games. If Portland can keep this one close, they can pull out the upset against arguably the best team in a tough Western Conference. Blazers 100 – Thunder 98 CLICK HERE TO CHECK OUT THE BLAZERS BLOG IN OUR CLUBHOUSE TODAY AT NWSB!
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