Thunder-Trail Blazers Preview
The Portland Trail Blazers have started to establish themselves as a legitimate threat in the Western Conference.
Beating the surging Oklahoma City Thunder would only further their claim.
Seeking a seventh straight home win, Portland tries to avoid an eighth consecutive loss to the Thunder as these Northwest Division rivals meet Wednesday night.
After finishing 33-49 last season, the Trail Blazers (15-3) have made huge strides early. Led by LaMarcus Aldridge (22.7) and Damian Lillard (20.6), Portland is averaging 104.7 points to rank near the top of the NBA.
The Trail Blazers are coming off their most impressive win to date, 106-102 over league-leading Indiana on Monday. Aldridge had 28 points and 10 rebounds, and Lillard added 26 points as Portland handed the Pacers their second loss.
"It was a tough one, and we knew it was going to be a tough one going in," said Lillard, whose team has won 13 of 14. "They're a good team, they only had one loss. But we're a good team too, and we wanted to prove that."
The Blazers extended their home winning streak to six and are on the verge of their best overall start since opening 27-3 in 1990-91. While Portland has looked every bit the contender thus far, coach Terry Stotts knows his team still has a long way to go.
"You don't win in this league without being tough," Stotts said. "We played the most complete game from beginning to end: Execution, effort, mental focus. All of those things. But I don't believe you play statement games in December."
A rare win over the Thunder (13-3) would surely give the Blazers even more confidence going forward. Portland, though, has lost seven straight to Oklahoma City by an average of 12.6 points and dropped 10 of 12 in the series since 2010-11.
The Thunder opened a three-game trip with their eighth consecutive win, 97-95 over Sacramento on Tuesday. Kevin Durant had 27 points and 11 rebounds for Oklahoma City, which nearly let a 17-point lead slip away while getting outscored 30-19 in the fourth quarter.
"We just have to be better," Durant told the NBA's official website. "Of course we can never take a win for granted. It's hard to win in this league."
While the Thunder held the Kings to 39.3 percent shooting, they committed 17 turnovers and only forced eight - their second-lowest total of the season.
"There are no nights off in the West," said coach Scott Brooks, whose team improved to 4-3 on the road. "The West is so good and there are so many good teams and tough places to play.
"We have to play better (Wednesday) night. We're playing one of the hottest teams in the game right now. They have a great home crowd and have a great atmosphere. But our team has always been up for challenges and definitely (Wednesday) night will be a tough challenge for us."
Durant, who went 8 of 21 from the field Tuesday, is shooting just 42.7 percent on the road compared to 46.9 at home. The three-time scoring champ, though, leads the NBA with 28.2 points per game.
The Blazers could also have their hands full with Russell Westbrook, who is averaging 26.8 points over the last 12 meetings in the series. Lillard, meanwhile, posted just 12.7 points per game on 29.5 percent shooting in the last three.
Lillard is averaging 5.7 assists, down from last season's mark of 6.5. Portland is 11-0 when he dishes out at least six.