Photo Credits: Bryan Terry/The Oklahoman
Oklahoma City Thunder (6-9) @ Portland Trail Blazers (9-6)
Tip Off: 9pm CST
Where To Watch: FSOK, NBA League Pass
Coming into Monday’s matchup, both opponents are heading into their final game of a back-to-back set. For Oklahoma City, they dropped the ball 108-100 against the Clippers on Sunday while the Blazers fended off a late game comeback from the New York Knicks leaving the Moda Center victorious 116-113.
A major talking point heading into this game will be how both sides can adapt to big names being out for Monday’s contest. Blazers big man Zach Collins will continue to be sidelined for a left ankle injury sustained last year, but there is much more firepower absent for Portland. Center Jusuf Nurkic and shooting-guard C.J. McCollum are out for tonight as they have been sidelined weeks due to major injuries. Nurkic started his season flat-footed scoring just 9.8 points per game and 7.7 boards in 12 games, but his nonattendance will put a lot more focus on bigs Enes Kanter and Harry Giles. C.J. McCollum led the Trail Blazers in scoring through the first 13 games of the year with 26.7 points, but since his hairline fracture the Blazers have been looking for another sidekick to pair offensively with Damian Lillard.
Oklahoma City will be left without their same group of guys in Al Horford, Josh Hall, Ty Jerome, and Trevor Ariza. While the Blazers inactive list may look far worse in comparison, Al Horford is an integral piece of the team’s interior defense, meaning Isaiah Roby will get the starting center nod yet again.
Keys To The Game:
No Dollars For Dame D.O.L.L.A
Damian Lillard has put his Blazers squad on his back as of late, averaging 34.4 points on 48% from the field in his last five games. With the departure of C.J. McCollum, his shot attempts should be amplified into the twenties and his facilitating skills will be on full display. Lillard can get you off the gather or driving to the basket. We struggled on Friday containing Clippers’ Kawhi Leonard and Paul George when stopping them around the cup, resulting in 16 free throws, and Lillard may bring up a similar issue as he’s gone a perfect 53-53 from the line in his past five games.
Lillard is one of the most dynamic scorers in the entire league, and the Thunder need to play him like one. Blocking off Lillard drives for open Blazers three-ball may the way to go, as currently their starters Rodney Hood and Robert Covington are shooting around the 30% mark from deep. Making Lillard flustered early would set the Thunder up for grave success in the rest of the night as you’d much rather have Dame searching for a sidekick than him driving in fifty times.
Can’t Give Kanter The Paint
Enes Kanter will fill the void of Jusuf Nurkic tonight, and he may have found a matchup that suits his style (on offense, that is.) Enes Kanter leads the Trail Blazers in rebounds with 9.9, and ranks fifth in the NBA with 3.5 of his boards coming from the offensive side. Second chance points and shots right around the basket will be Kanter’s bread-and-butter matched up on a smaller Isaiah Roby. Kanter shooting just over six shots per game inside the paint, and converts on a whopping 63.7% percent of them. The Kanter pick-and-roll in additions to isolation post-ups will be an central part to the Blazers offense if they are desperate for a quick bucket.
Revitalize The Three In Rip City
Oklahoma City started their last two games vs. the Clippers for a combined 0-21 (0%) from long-range, allowing for LA to take controlling 17 and 18-point leads by the start of the second quarter. The Thunder have lived by the three early and came up short these last two nights, but at some point you should expect the shots to fall. Oklahoma City have found themselves in the game off triples alone, and even used them to win games, see Thunder-Bulls game for reference.
If the Thunder aren’t able to rack up shots from the perimeter early, odds are the high-ball screens of Shai Gilgeous-Alexander and Isaiah Roby will be shut down. SGA can take drives on multiple defenders, but you would much rather have the supporting cast of guys keep their man outside for more 1-on-1 oppurtunities.
Lu Dort was in a total funk on Sunday, going empty handed from three the first time this season on 0-6 shooting. The same sentiment can be told with bigs Mike Muscala and Isaiah Roby, who shot just 1-11 from three. They in particular will be primary options outside if they chose to pop off screens and shooting as poor as they did Sunday simply will not cut it.
We will see how these two team’s shape up tonight, especially due to Damian Lillard reportedly releasing OKC styled shoes, potentially giving adding to this game even more emotion than your usual Thunder-Blazers matchup.