While the Portland Trail Blazers are undoubtedly a talented team, it’s unlikely many predicted the team to be tied with the San Antonio Spurs atop the Western Conference standings.
The Blazers are fresh off a big win over the Indiana Pacers but will face another tough team in the Oklahoma City Thunder on Wednesday night. Suffice it to say this matchup will again test Portland, but the Thunder can have the upper hand. Here’s how:
Guard the Three-Point Line at All Costs
The Trail Blazers have some terrific shooters in Damian Lillard, Wesley Matthews and Nicolas Batum. All three are knocking down over 40 percent of their long-range shots, with Matthews leading the charge with an incredible 51 percent conversion rate.
Portland is the second-best three-point shooting team in the league, hitting 41.3 percent, which trails just the Golden State Warriors. The team makes 9.5 three-point baskets per game, which leans heavy on the aforementioned players. The trio makes 2.8, 2.8 and 2.1 threes per game respectively, so Oklahoma City must play smothering defense on the perimeter.
The Thunder allow just 34.2 percent shooting from long range on average, good for No. 7 in the NBA. Despite this, OKC allows opponents to make 8.9 three-point shots per game. While the team’s defense percentage-wise is solid, the tempo of their play allows higher volume from opponents.
Oklahoma City cannot afford to continue this trend heading into their matchup with Portland. The latter team is scorching from deep thus far, and it’s a big part of their offense. It spaces the floor for driving lanes for Lillard and Matthews, as well as creating room for LaMarcus Aldridge to operate in the low post.
Courtesy of Team Rankings, Portland ranks second-last for scoring in the paint at 33.8 points per game. Aside from Aldridge, the team doesn’t have another low-post option or an inside presence at the very least. Robin Lopez is more of a defensive player, so any chance to push the ball away from the three-point line and into the paint should be taken by OKC.
If the Thunder can limit the Blazers’ shooting production, the team will have a much easier night.
Get into the Paint and Draw Fouls, Force Portland’s Bench to Contribute
Portland is just as potent defensively as it is offensively. The team is just 0.6 points away from having a top-10 defense in technicalities, according to ESPN.com. The Blazers also allow just 45 percent shooting by opponents, which fits alongside a dominant perimeter defense of 32.9 percent from long range.
Portland is also a very disciplined defensive team, committing 19.1 fouls per game, which ranks No. 5 according to Team Rankings. Teams shoot just 22.1 free-throw attempts per game versus the Trail Blazers, another top-10 statistic in terms of putting opponents on the line.
What the Thunder must do is get physical and draw fouls on key players.
As talented as Portland is, the roster is a top-heavy one, as the team has one of the worst bench productions in the league. According to HoopsStats.com, the Blazers bench averages 22.8 points per game, which is good for fourth-worst in the NBA.