Thunder-Trail Blazers Preview
There have been very few teams that have been able to slow down Kevin Durant this season.
The Portland Trail Blazers have been less successful at containing the NBA’s leading scorer than anyone.
The Trail Blazers have beaten the Oklahoma City Thunder twice in three meetings despite Durant’s gaudy individual numbers, and they’ll try to win the season series and climb closer to the Northwest Division leaders Tuesday night in Portland.
Durant is averaging 31.2 points, but he’s taken his individual success to another level against the Trail Blazers. In the first three meetings versus Portland, Durant scored 38.7 points per contest – his highest average against any team this season – while shooting 54.1 percent.
His 70 combined points weren’t enough to produce a win in the first two meetings, including a 111-104 loss at the Moda Center on Dec. 4 as Oklahoma City (41-12) failed to hang onto an 11-point halftime lead and win its fifth straight in Portland. But Durant made the difference Jan. 21 at home against the Blazers (36-15), scoring 11 of his 46 points in the final 3:23 to rally the Thunder to a 105-97 victory.
"MVP performance," Trail Blazers coach said Terry Stotts after that game. "To score 46 points on 25 shots, six of seven from 3-point range, and I think he got a couple of his shots blocked. It was a remarkable performance. He made shots when they mattered. He took his time and didn’t force it. He took what was there, and he made some great shots."
Stotts’ description could also apply to Durant’s latest standout performance. He had 41 points on just 22 field-goal attempts, 10 rebounds and nine assists in leading Oklahoma City to a 112-100 win over New York on Sunday.
He also was primarily responsible for holding Carmelo Anthony to 15 points on 5-of-19 shooting.
"I tried to rely on my teammates," Durant said. "They did a great job of helping me out and building a wall behind me."
Durant and the Thunder will have their hands full again Tuesday trying to slow LaMarcus Aldridge, who has averaged 30.7 points and 14.3 rebounds in this season’s series. Aldridge had 38 points in the Blazers’ home win in December, the fourth time in Oklahoma City’s last six visits that he’s scored at least 32.
Aldridge had 26 points Saturday in Minnesota, but only needed 16 field-goal attempts to get there – making 12.
Rookie guard C.J. McCollum added a season-high 19 points in the 117-110 victory.
"I feel more comfortable every game," said McCollum, who hadn’t topped 10 points in his first 14 NBA games. "Obviously I’m a confident person and I put a lot of work in and trust myself. But it’s more about game trust, team trust and coach trust. They know what I’m capable of obviously from practice but it’s about translating it into the game."
McCollum’s 28 minutes of action were also a season high as he eased the load on Damian Lillard, who had 38 points and 11 assists in 45 minutes of Portland’s overtime loss at Indiana the night before.
Lillard, who had 14 points on 3-of-10 shooting Saturday, hasn’t had it easy against the Thunder despite not having to deal with Russell Westbrook in two of the three meetings. He’s averaged 16.3 points on 36.4 percent shooting in the season series, and his 15.4-point career average versus Oklahoma City is his lowest against any Western Conference opponent.
The Thunder took a one-game lead in the Northwest after their win against the Blazers last month, but have since pushed it to four by going 9-2 in their 11 games since.
Portland is 5-4 in that stretch.