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

Trail Blazers Close Trip Against Explosive Thunder

03/24/13
  1. Written by: erikgundersen  / avg. rating: 5.0

    BY ERIK GUNDERSEN

    On Sunday afternoon, the Trail Blazers (33-36) will look to end their five-game road trip in improbable fashion when they take on the Oklahoma City Thunder (51-19) at 4PM. Tip-off will be shown on CSNNW and it can be heard on 1190 AM and 102.3 FM.

        •    After a start to a road trip that featured a heart-breaking last-second miss and a disappointing game that needed a late run to make the final score respectable, the Trail Blazers reeled off two straight wins against two Eastern Conference playoff teams in the Bulls and Hawks. What was even more impressive is that the Trail Blazers were able to win both by double-digits. It's the only time they have had back-to-back double-digit wins against playoff teams this season, and it couldn't come at a better time. The Trail Blazers are still on the outside looking in on the final playoff spot in the Western Conference. However, with their most difficult game on the trip ahead, it will be hard to put them firmly back in the race. However, they are still in a position to put themselves in it if they can continue to play better defense and continue to push the pace the way they have been. But, against Oklahoma City, they must be conscious not to get into a shootout and control their fast-paced offense by playing good defense to spark their offense.
     
      •    The Trail Blazers have faced the Thunder twice before and will face them one more time after Sunday on April 12th at the Rose Garden. The first meeting, the first one in Oklahoma City, was a dominating performance by the Thunder. The second one, at the Rose Garden, was another game mostly dominated by the Thunder, until late when the Trail Blazers were able to make a run to get them within two points and a chance to tie or win the game. However, LaMarcus Aldridge was forced to take a deep fadeaway and the Trail Blazers lost. The game was a low-scoring affair the whole night, as both Damian Lillard and Russell Westbrook had subpar shooting nights. Westbrook was still able to get to the foul line, scoring 18 points along with nine assists and eight rebounds on a five for 21 night. Lillard dished nine assists on the night and went three of 14. However, the fact that neither player shot well as well as an excess of turnovers and neither team cracking fifty percent shooting made the night one short on points. The only two players that had it going offensively were the two Texas Longhorns, Kevin Durant and LaMarcus Aldridge, who both shot over 50 percent and scored 33 points apiece. Aldridge grabbed 11 rebounds and Durant dished six assists and four rebounds. In addition to that, the normally efficient Kevin Martin had only four points on one of eight shooting. The Thunder have the NBA's best offense and the Trail Blazers have got to find ways to slow them down to have a chance to steal a road win against a team that has given the Trail Blazers trouble over the last 10 meetings between them (Portland is 2-8 in last 10 meetings with OKC).
     
      •    Look for Aldridge to be a factor once again. There is nothing of late that can point to the contrary, as he continues to put up big performance after big performance over the last two weeks. Aldridge is averaging 26 points and 11.7 rebounds over his last seven games in the past 12 days. Aldridge's numbers this year against Oklahoma City have actually been better than his recent stretch. In two games against the Thunder, Aldridge is averaging 27.5 points per game and 13 rebounds as well as one block.
      
     •    This game will be a homecoming of sorts for newly acquired Eric Maynor. Maynor was traded by Oklahoma City on deadline day and it has paid major dividends in helping add some depth to the team's bench. This will be Maynor's first trip to Oklahoma City since he was traded. Maynor was injured as part of last year's NBA finalists but was the back-up in the 2011 playoffs when the team went to the Conference Finals, before eventually losing to the Dallas Mavericks, where Terry Stotts was an assistant.  
       
    •    Maynor has been part of a shortened rotation used by Coach Stotts over the last two games. After their loss in Milwaukee, Stotts has gone back-to-back games distributing minutes in a different way, mostly among just seven players. In Chicago, Meyers Leonard and Maynor were the only bench players to get significant minutes until the game was essentially over. Will Barton logged four minutes in Atlanta on Friday. Thus far, the shorter rotation has paid dividends on both ends of the court. Over the past two games, the Trail Blazers have been able to play at a faster pace than they normally do, with nearly two more possessions per game. Additionally, they are only allowing 96.9 points per 100 possessions, while also scoring 108.3 points per 100 possessions on offense. It will be interesting to see whether Stotts continues distributing the majority of the minutes around just seven players and if it continues to work in the Trail Blazers' favor.

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