Trail Blazers-Thunder Preview

The Oklahoma City Thunder have compensated for the loss of

Russell Westbrook with outstanding defense in their last two

games.

The Portland Trail Blazers have had problems with defense in

their first set of consecutive defeats.

These high-scoring teams meet Tuesday night in Oklahoma City,

where the Thunder seek their 34th win in the last 35 regular-season

games against Western Conference foes.

Oklahoma City (25-5) will try to increase its Northwest Division

lead over Portland (24-7) to 2 1/2 games after victories over

Charlotte and Houston in which it held those opponents to a

combined 37.0 percent shooting.

Those wins have come without Westbrook, who is out until after

the All-Star break due to knee surgery.

“I think overall we’re playing well on the defensive end,

trusting each other, having each other’s back,” center Kendrick

Perkins said. “I think we’re just putting the focus on

defense.”

The Trail Blazers have allowed Miami and New Orleans to shoot

52.8 percent in consecutive defeats, opening this two-game trip

with Monday’s 110-108 loss to the Pelicans.

“We just have to do a better job of improving it,” guard Damian

Lillard said. “It’s something that we care about, but in order to

win more games we need to get it under control.”

Lillard won’t have to match up with Westbrook and will instead

face Reggie Jackson, who had 16 points and eight assists in

Sunday’s 117-86 win over the Rockets. Jackson bounced back from

scoring 10 on 4-of-19 shooting two nights earlier in an 89-85

victory over the Bobcats.

“We’re going to do things collectively,” Jackson said. “We’re

going to find a way to play, but we all know our limitations. We

all know what we’re good at.”

Portland won 111-103 at home Dec. 4, in the first meeting this

season as stars Kevin Durant and LaMarcus Aldridge put on a

show.

Durant had 33 points and seven rebounds, but it wasn’t enough as

Aldridge had a season-high 38 points with 13 rebounds. Westbrook

outscored Lillard 21-14 in that one.

Lillard scored 29 on Monday and Aldridge had 28 for a Trail

Blazers team that was outscored 68-32 in the paint.

“We have 24 wins,” guard Wesley Matthews said. “Two consecutive

losses aren’t going to keep us down. We’re going to make mistakes,

but at the same time we aren’t going to act like this is the best

we can do.”

After facing the NBA’s top shot blocker in Anthony Davis, the

Blazers must contend with another league leader in that department

one night later in Serge Ibaka – who averages 2.3 rejections.

The Thunder average a league-best 6.3 blocks, but coach Scott

Brooks would like to see his team’s defense reach an even higher

level.

“We like to get our guys over quickly so we can contest those

shots,” Brooks said. “The thing that we want to continue to work on

and build on throughout this season is prevent those shots from

even taking place.”

The Blazers are the league’s highest scoring team at 108.6

points per game, with the Thunder third at 106.1.

Oklahoma City is playing at home on New Year’s Eve for the sixth

straight year and has won the previous five.