Trail Blazers vs Warriors Wednesday, 04/17/13 AT 07:00PM

Trail Blazers Start 3-Game Road Trip In Oklahoma City

11/02/12
  1. Written by: erikgundersen  / avg. rating: 5.0


    BY ERIK GUNDERSEN
        
    After an exciting wire-to-wire win over the Los Angeles Lakers on Opening Night, the Trail Blazers (1-0) take their show on the road to Oklahoma City to face the defending Western Conference champion Thunder (0-1) . The game will tipoff at 5PM in Oklahoma City and will be shown on CSNNW and broadcast on 1190 AM KEX and 102.3 FM.

    How does Damian Lillard get follow up his historic opening night performance? He gets to face the league’s most relentless point guard in Russell Westbrook. Westbrook presents a different challenge for Lillard than almost any other point guard in the league. His physical style of play and the way he doesn’t quit on any single play will be a tough assignment for the rookie on defense but as we’ve come to learn about Lillard, he’s not changing his approach.

    “It’ll be a challenge like every other night,” said Lillard.

    “I tell Damian he’s got a challenge every night. Steve Nash presents one problem or challenge. Westbrook does what he does with his athleticism, his size, his strength and then you’ve got Jeremy Lin the next night,” said head coach Terry Stotts

    Lillard also talked about how aggressive the Lakers point guards Steve Nash and Steve Blake were the previous night, so aggression won’t be an issue he hasn’t dealt with yet. Maybe just not on Westbrook’s level, however.

    “He’s just bigger, so it will probably take more of a toll than it would playing against them (Blake and Nash),” said Lillard on Westbrook’s physicality.

    However, despite Westbrook’s aggressiveness, a late steal by Kawhi Leonard from Kevin Durant gave San Antonio possession late in a tied game. On the ensuing possession Tony Parker hit the NBA season’s first buzzer beating game-winner.

    Last season the Trail Blazers struggled against the Thunder, losing the season series 3-1. The Trail Blazers only win against the Thunder was in Oklahoma City early in the season behind 30 points from LaMarcus Aldridge. Aldridge terrorized the Thunder offensively last year, averaging 26 points.

    The Thunder, in-case you haven’t heard, are much different from last year. On Saturday, they traded their third leading scorer and last year’s Sixth Man of the Year James Harden to the Houston Rockets for Kevin Martin, Jeremy Lamb and draft picks.

    “Defending Western Conference champs. Even though they lost James Harden, Kevin Martin is a quality scorer off the bench,” said Stotts.

    Harden averaged over 19 points per game against the Trail Blazers last season for the Thunder. However, the man who is supposed to replace the scoring punch he brings from the bench actually averaged more against Portland last year. Martin averaged nearly 27 points per game against Portland, shooting over 53% from the field. Martin only shot better against one team in the entire NBA last season. It is a different role for him now than he had on Houston as their main scorer but recent history indicates that he’ll have no trouble finding his offense in his new Thunder uniform. Martin scored 15 points in his debut including a big three point shot late in the fourth quarter to tie the game with 3:31 left.

    After Lillard’s historic performance Wednesday night his match-up against Westbrook will take the headlines. The match-up between Nicolas Batum and Kevin Durant is equally important. Batum, too, had a breakout game last night impacting the game on both ends. Batum has had big games before but he knows that stringing those games together is the next step in becoming the player many are waiting for him to become.

    “My biggest weakness, since playing basketball is to try to be consistent and focus on the next game,” said Batum.

    He will need another one of those performances against the league’s reigning three-time scoring champion.

    “I’ve got the best offensive guy in the league tomorrow,” said Batum of his match-up with Durant.

    Stopping Durant is impossible but making him work on both ends will certainly improve the Trail Blazers chances of stealing this game from the Thunder. Sasha Pavlovic will probably also get some time against Durant. Stotts said that his rotations will probably stay the same until Ronnie Price comes back from his ankle injury. Price’s injury status did not change and his status for Friday is still uncertain and not optimistic.
        
    This is also the first road trip of the regular season for the Trail Blazers. For the five rookies, this will be their first one of its kind. No more week-long breaks between games, but according to Damian Lillard it’s a good thing.

    “At the end of the day, we just want to hoop.”

    “It’s an early test. You know, you’ve got to win on the road. Winning on the road is difficult, especially for a young team,” said Stotts. “You’ve got to do it sometime,” he added on how early the road trip comes in the Trail Blazers schedule.

    No matter who the Trail Blazers face on the road at this point, it really doesn’t matter, Stotts is right, it’s going to be tough.  Oklahoma City presents a unique challenge even if it is slightly different than the Thunder we all envisioned less than a week ago. Three games, four nights and the trial by fire for the young Trail Blazers continues.

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