Oklahoma City Thunder at Portland Trail Blazers
Time: 10:35 PM ET
Spread: POR -5
Betting odds c/o Bovada
Kevin Durant and the Thunder just can’t seem to catch a break. Durant is out indefinitely with a foot injury that required surgery, and Russell Westbrook is left to hold the ship down again. Russ has played MVP caliber basketball, but the Thunder have been hit with injuries to its two star players all season.
Tonight, traveling to Portland, NBA live odds show the Thunder as 5-point underdogs in the NBA live odds. The total is not yet set at Bovada, but for an explanation of how to bet that see our NBA odds explained.
For the Thunder, holding onto a playoff berth may be difficult, and the Thunder will want to move up into the 6th or 7th seed so as to avoid a first round matchup with either Golden State or Memphis, both of which have been playing phenomenal basketball (especially defensively for the Grizzlies) all season.
Russell Westbrook has been playing absolutely out of his mind, but he’s going to have to keep doing so. In the Thunder’s 117-113 loss last night (Feb 26), the dynamic guard posted an absurd triple-double with 39 points, 14 rebounds and 11 assists. He is the first player since Michael Jordan to have five games or more consecutively of 20-plus points, 10-plus assists and 5-plus rebounds. Stuffing the stats like that is almost a side-product of his unparalleled energy and athleticism. Russ can win the MVP this year, in short.
OKC made a big move at the trade deadline, swinging Reggie Jackson to the Utah Jazz in exchange for big man Enes Kanter. Kanter made Kendrick Perkins more than expendable, as Kanter has a good back to the basket game and could be just what the Thunder need to put itself over the proverbial hump in the West.
Kanter had a monster game Sunday night in the Thunder’s 119-94 win over the Denver Nuggets after joining the fold. The Turk put up 20 points and 12 boards while hitting 8 of 12 from the field. Westbrook also was highly efficient, shooting the same 66 percent from the floor for 21 points, 17 (!) assists and eight boards. That kind of well-rounded effort is what Westbrook is capable of when he keeps his head up and looks for his teammates. Last night, Kanter hit 6 of 11 for 18 points to go with his six boards. Kanter swatted one shot, while Serge Ibaka rejected an additional three.
Also, expect Ibaka to continue to play a bigger role in the offense. The highly touted defensive standout shot 18 field goals in the win and put up 20 points, eight boards, and astoundingly—eight blocks. The OKC defense is enough to stifle the Pacers, and being without last year’s MVP in Durant does not hurt as much as it seems it might. The Thunder are a very good, very deep team that has the potential to upset any team in the West once the postseason begins.
Rookie big man Mitch McGary and Cleveland Cavs discard Dion Waiters both have performed well and combined to put up 27 points off the bench, part of the Thunders 49 points off its bench in the win. To have a second unit capable of that type of production means the Thunder are not heavily reliant on jumping out to huge leads early, and in the event that it does, the reserves can maintain the lead left for them by the starters. Waiters played 34 minutes off the bench last night, hitting 50 percent from the floor to score 16 points (3 of 4 from three-point range).
LaMarcus Aldridge is expected to play (thumb) and other than missing the seldom used Joel Freeland, the Portland Trail Blazers are all systems go. Aldridge had an off-night last game against the San Antonio Spurs, connecting on just 5 of 19 from the field, though he did pull down 13 rebounds in the game. Wesley Matthews was knocking them down, nailing 11 field goals, four of which were threes, for 31 points, three assists and five boards.
Portland made a move to acquire shooting guard Arron Afflalo at the deadline, which will infuse some much needed depth into its backcourt. With a four guard rotation featuring Damian Lillard, Wes Matthews, Steve Blake and Afflalo, the Blazers should have the tools to keep up with the loaded backcourts of the Clippers, Spurs, and most especially, Golden State Warriors.
Afflalo may need to resume his role of being a strong defender to render the Blazers with its best chance. Afflalo played the most minutes of any Portland reserve Wednesday night, scoring 10 points in 25 minutes of play. Most importantly, he and Damian Lillard and Wes Matthews put the clamps on the Spurs’ backcourt, limiting Tony Parker to 1 of 8 shooting and keeping Kawhi Leonard (5 of 13 FG) and Danny Green (just nine FGA) from getting going.
Leonard emerged as the unlikely Finals MVP last year and is the transitioning leader of the Spurs as the older generation winds down their NBA careers. To be sure, however, this could be the year that the Spurs win its second straight title, having won four in the last 15 seasons. Shutting him down proved to be the difference in the big win.
Portland showed the first signs of contention type strength by dispatching the Houston Rockets last postseason. The Blazers have as good an ace in the hole as any with forward LaMarcus Aldridge. Aldridge is nearly unguardable on the baselines and is one of the best pick and pop forwards in recent NBA history. He’s a steady 23 points and 10 rebounds per night, and helps augment a strong rotation at the 5-spot.
The Blazers use an amalgam of Meyers Leonard, Chris Kaman and Robin Lopez, sometimes playing two of the seven-footers at the same time. It renders the Blazers the league’s best rebounding team, and getting second chance looks against Portland is rare. Nicolas Batum’s impact also goes far beyond his humble statistics, and even his 1.73 steals/blocks per game isn’t fully indicative of the defensive impact he can make on a game. The Blazers have a lot of pieces in place that could give the Spurs problems, but it isn’t a point spread that should inspire a ton of confidence.