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.