Thunder-Trail Blazers Preview

The Oklahoma City Thunder finished March with the best record in

a single month in franchise history. April is promising to be even

more exciting.

As the Thunder move closer to the Northwest Division title,

they’ll look to sweep the Portland Trail Blazers for the first time

in 13 years Friday night at the Rose Garden.

Oklahoma City (50-24) has won five straight and it capped a 14-2

March with a 116-98 win over Phoenix on Wednesday. The Thunder

secured the franchise’s first consecutive 50-win seasons since

1996-97 and ’97-98, when the team was based in Seattle.

“After my first two seasons, we went from (23) wins to 50-win

seasons, that is a big turnaround for us and something that can’t

be overlooked,” Kevin Durant said. “I know it is the regular season

and it means a lot, but in the postseason it is kind of out the

window. It does feel good to get 50 wins as a young group.”

With eight games remaining, Oklahoma City has a comfortable

five-game lead over Denver in the Northwest Division. The Thunder

haven’t won a division title since the SuperSonics did it in

2004-05.

Oklahoma City is coming off another strong offensive game. The

Thunder shot 53.8 percent and outscored Phoenix 37-25 in the fourth

quarter Wednesday. Durant and James Harden each scored 22

points.

They’ll look to match their longest winning streak of the season

Friday as they try to sweep the season series against Portland for

the first time since 1997-98.

The first two meetings between the teams were decided by a

combined three points before Oklahoma City won 99-90 on Sunday.

Russell Westbrook scored 28 points in that victory, hitting 4 of 5

from 3-point range. He’s averaging 30.7 points in the season

series.

The Trail Blazers (43-32) are in a tight battle for one of the

Western Conference’s final three playoff spots. They are tied with

New Orleans for sixth place while Memphis is one game back.

Portland returns home after a 1-2 road trip. The Blazers fell

95-91 to the Hornets on Wednesday, giving New Orleans the season

series – and the tiebreaker in the standings.

LaMarcus Aldridge finished with 24 points and 15 rebounds while

Gerald Wallace had 14 points and 10 boards. Portland got off to a

hot start, scoring 31 points on 13-of-21 shooting in the first

quarter, but slowed down and shot 45.3 percent the rest of the

way.

“We dropped it,” coach Nate McMillan told the Blazers’ official

website. “It’s still in our hands. We dropped this game and now we

need to go home. We know what we need to do. Every game is

important.”

Nicolas Batum has dropped off after a hot stretch. He went 0 for

7 from the field Wednesday, finishing with two points, and has

scored a combined 18 points the last three games after scoring at

least 21 in each of the previous three.

As Portland tries to improve its playoff positioning, it has a

favorable stretch with five of its final seven games coming at

home, where the Blazers are 26-10 and have won six straight.