First road challenge
The Portland Trail Blazers started their season off on the right foot with a 116-106 victory against the Los Angeles Lakers, but now it’s time to take their act on the road against the defending Western Conference champions, the Oklahoma City Thunder.
Matchup: Portland (1-0) @ Oklahoma City (0-1)
Venue: Chesapeake Energy Arena
Time: 5:00 PM PT
Date: November 2, 2012
The Thunder will be about as tough as it gets early in the year, but they’re just one of a string of contenders the Blazers must face before the schedule lightens up in the second half of the month.
Game Notes/How They Match Up
Wesley Matthews needs another strong performance to take down the Thunder. Photo: AP/Don Ryan
These teams have a lot in common. They’re both young, they both have an established go-to scorer and they both play an up-tempo style of ultra-exciting basketball.
The difference? Only one is considered a contender this season.
Oklahoma City is looked at as the favorite out West in the eyes of many—especially considering the early struggles of the Los Angeles Lakers—and despite the changes in their roster from last year, they’re going to be in the mix for a title run in 2013.
Portland, on the other hand, is looking to simply upset one of the league’s best teams. If the Blazers can come out strong with a ton of energy, they’re going to challenge OKC from start to finish. If they can’t, this game could expose the youth on Portland’s roster, and the team could be in for a long night.
What to Watch: Portland
The Blazers are coming off a contest where the crowd had their back for an entire 48 minutes, and it will be interesting to see how this young group responds with the boos coming their way on Friday.
The starters in Portland overachieved in a number of ways in the opener against L.A. We all know about the potential of Rip City’s first five, but who really expected Nicolas Batum to lead the way with 26 points, J.J. Hickson to collect 10 rebounds and Wesley Matthews to chip in with 22 points on 4-of-6 three-point shooting.
If the Blazers can get this kind of production every night, it’s going to be a great season. However, this is a young roster, and you have to imagine that if things start going downhill, the dominoes will begin to fall in the wrong direction.
Watch for this team to push the pace again on Friday, but as fans, hope that the term “disorganized chaos” remains a term of endearment and not an insult.
What to Watch: Oklahoma City
The Thunder don’t possess an inside offensive presence this season, so their attack is going to come in the form of fast-break opportunities and superstar isolations.
The subtraction of James Harden from the equation could slow down their offense slightly, but it could also open up more scoring opportunities for both Kevin Durant and Russell Westbrook. Both players are going to look to get involved, and both players are as hard to stop as it comes in this league.
Of the team’s newest additions, Kevin Martin is most noteworthy. His offense is dangerous, yet inconsistent, making him a wild card early in the year.
OKC averaged the most blocks in the NBA last season, but with Portland getting their points in transition, the Thunder will look to win this game by simply outscoring the Blazers.
Lillard is up against a challenge when he faces Russell Westbrook and the Thunder. Photo: Randy L. Rasmussen
The key matchup in this contest is going to feature Damian Lillard against the player he openly compared himself to this past summer, Russell Westbrook.
Westbrook has the tools to be a great defender on any given night, but his lack of effort and willingness to take risks limits his abilities on that end of the floor.
That being said, he’s going to be a huge upgrade defensively from Steve Nash and Steve Blake, and it will be interesting to see how Damian Lillard handles a point guard who is even more athletic than he is.
Lillard’s opening-night performance was arguably the best showing of any rookie in the entire NBA. His 23 points and 11 assists made him the first player to record at least 21 points and nine assists in his first game since LeBron James did it in 2003.
He also became just the third player in league history to record at least 20 points and 10 assists in his debut. The other two are Oscar Robertson and Isiah Thomas—not bad company, right?
Lillard and Westbrook are the epitome of today’s NBA point guard, and this matchup is going to be a fun one to watch not just on Friday, but for years to come.
Portland: OUT—Elliot Williams, QUESTIONABLE—Ronnie Price
The Blazers took down their first big challenge on opening night, but an away game against the Thunder should prove to be an even bigger test.
The Thunder had the NBA’s third-most potent offense last year, and they’ll be looking to display it proudly come Friday night. If Portland can’t keep up, they’ll be in trouble in their second game of the season.
Blazers 98 – Thunder 109
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