Posted March 23, 2013 on AP on Fox
Facing a potential third straight loss, the Oklahoma City Thunder turned to their defense to bail them out against one of the league's worst teams. The Thunder might have a more difficult time trying to slip past a Portland Trail Blazers team that has built some momentum on its road trip. Oklahoma City will try to beat Portland for the sixth straight time and move within two games of the Western Conference lead on Sunday night. While they have one of the NBA's top scoring offenses, the Thunder (51-19) stepped up defensively after visiting Orlando took a stunning two-point lead with 7:29 remaining on Friday. Oklahoma City held the lowly Magic without a field goal over the final 2:26 on the way to a 97-89 home win that snapped its brief two-game skid. The Thunder have allowed 97.2 points per game on the season, but limited their opponents to just 89.5 on 38.7 percent shooting in their last two contests. "We had two tough losses ... I give our guys a lot of credit,'' Oklahoma City coach Scott Brooks said. "They picked themselves up and came into tonight with a good mindset. We got the win and we're moving on to the next game.'' Now the Thunder will try to clamp down on the Trail Blazers after holding them to just 87.5 points per game and 36.0 percent shooting in a pair of victories earlier this season. Russell Westbrook led the offense with 32 points on 13-of-24 shooting and Kevin Durant had 23, 17 rebounds and seven assists in a 106-92 win in Oklahoma City on Nov. 2. Durant, the league's leading scorer at 28.4 per game, also finished with 33 in an 87-83 victory at Portland on Jan. 13. Westbrook had 18 on 5-of-21 shooting in that meeting, but has averaged 29.2 while shooting 51.9 percent in his last five home games in this series. Although the Thunder rank near the top of the league in 3-point percentage (37.7), they've hit just 16 for 85 (18.8) from beyond the arc over their last four games. It may not be easy breaking out of that slump against the Trail Blazers (33-36), who are one of the league's best teams at defending the perimeter. Portland has limited its opponents to 33.9 percent shooting from long range and 11 for 38 in its back-to-back victories. Since losing 14 of 16 on the road, the Trail Blazers have won consecutive road games for the first time since early January with a 99-89 victory at Chicago on Thursday and a 104-93 win at Atlanta on Friday. Against the Hawks, Wesley Matthews led the way with 28 points, Damian Lillard added 22 and LaMarcus Aldridge had 20 and 13 rebounds for the Trail Blazers, who are tied for 10th in the West and three games behind the eighth-place Los Angeles Lakers. "We're going to keep on fighting until we're mathematically eliminated,'' Matthews said. Aldridge has scored at least 20 in seven straight games, averaging 26.0 points and 11.7 rebounds during that stretch. He's also totaled 55 and 26, respectively, against the Thunder. With Lillard and Matthews combining to shoot 28 for 51 from beyond the arc, the Trail Blazers have made at least 10 3s in each of their last four games while shooting 48.4 percent from long range in that span.
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