Thunder-Trail Blazers Preview

Associated Press  |  Last updated March 26, 2012
The Western Conference-leading Oklahoma City Thunder have been scoring at an incredibly high rate, but coach Scott Brooks was thrilled with what he saw from his team on the defensive end in its last game. Portland Trail Blazers interim coach Kaleb Canales would like to see his club make a push back into the playoff picture. The Thunder go for a fourth consecutive victory Tuesday night at the Rose Garden, where the Trail Blazers try to split the four-game season series with their first set of back-to-back wins in more than two months. Among the league leaders with 103.6 points per game, Oklahoma City (37-12) has averaged 122.0 during its winning streak while shooting 53.2 percent. Led by 28 points from Kevin Durant and 19 apiece from Serge Ibaka and James Harden, the Thunder made 52.7 percent of their shots in Sunday's 103-87 victory over Miami. Oklahoma City's season-best 13 steals helped it score 28 points off 21 Heat turnovers. The Thunder have 31 steals and 19 blocks since their last loss. "When we're getting into a defensive stance and all four guys are in that stance and one guy on the ball, there are not a lot of opportunities to score in the paint, and that's how we want to play," Brooks told the Thunder's official website. Maintaining that defensive intensity could be crucial as the Thunder are targeting the league's best record and home-court advantage throughout the playoffs. Oklahoma City could make a strong case for that spot if it fares well in upcoming games against the Los Angeles Lakers, Chicago, Memphis, Miami and Indiana. The Thunder, though, can't overlook the 12th-place Trail Blazers (23-26). Portland hasn't won two in a row since Jan. 23-24, but the club continues its three-game homestand with plenty of confidence following Sunday's 90-87 victory over Golden State. The Blazers rallied from seven down at halftime to improve to 3-3 since Canales replaced the fired Nate McMillan. "We talk about resolve and I felt like guys responded tonight,'' Canales said. "LaMarcus (Aldridge) made huge plays down the stretch. He had a big shot (with 39.9 seconds left), but more than that, he made the right reads and plays tonight.'' Aldridge has made plenty of plays in three games versus Oklahoma City in 2011-12, averaging a team-best 28.0 points. The first-time All-Star finished with a season-high 39 points in a 111-107 overtime loss on Feb. 6 in the Thunder's lone visit to Portland this season. However, it was a goaltending call on Aldridge - one the league later called incorrect - on Durant's layup attempt with six seconds left in regulation that got the most attention. Aside from Durant, who's averaging 33.3 points, 11.7 rebounds and 6.0 assists over the last three games, Portland's front line of Aldridge, Nicolas Batum and center Joel Przybilla will want to keep a close eye on Ibaka. Ibaka is averaging 14.0 points per game with 9.0 boards and 3.0 blocks during the winning streak, while center Kendrick Perkins has 28 points and 11 rebounds in the last two contests. Russell Westbrook, tied with Durant with a team-best 78 points versus Portland this season, scored 28 with 11 boards and eight assists on Feb. 6 to help Oklahoma City snap Portland's five-game home winning streak. Blazers point guard Raymond Felton, who missed that game with a sprained left foot, scored 19 of his season-best 24 points in the second half Sunday.
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