Trail Blazers-Thunder Preview
The Portland Trail Blazers are hopeful they will play well on a difficult road trip while the Oklahoma City Thunder are enduring some recent woes, including some poor play at home.
It figures to be an entertaining affair as superstar guards Damian Lillard and Russell Westbrook match up Monday night as the Thunder and Trail Blazers meet in what could be a playoff preview.
Portland (35-32) begins a four-game trip that includes visits to San Antonio, New Orleans and Dallas. The Trail Blazers are seeking to avoid a third five-game road losing streak this season.
''It's going to be a tough trip,'' Lillard said. ''We've got to go out there and be ourselves.''
Oklahoma City (44-22) may not be as formidable as expected after losing for the eighth time in 12 games, 93-85 on the road to the Spurs on Saturday. That came one night after a 99-96 loss to Minnesota that was the Thunder's fourth defeat in five home games.
Westbrook finished with nine turnovers Saturday for his second-worst total. He only made 5 of 16 shots for 19 points while Kevin Durant led the way with 28.
"We have to start making better decisions, starting with myself," Westbrook told the Thunder's official website. "Find ways to get guys the ball and make a better decision. I don't want to put us in a position that creates problems from us turning the ball over."
These teams have split two meetings and the Thunder currently have the Western Conference's third-best record and the Trail Blazers are sixth, meaning they would match up in the first round.
If such a series materializes, the highlight would probably be how Lillard and Westbrook fare against each other. Neither played well in Oklahoma City's 106-90 home victory Dec. 16, with Lillard making 6 of 20 shots for 20 points and Westbrook making 5 of 15 for 13 points with five assists.
They were more productive in Portland's 115-110 home win Jan. 10. Westbrook had 25 points and 15 assists while Lillard scored 31 points, including five 3-pointers in the last 3:07 as the Blazers established a season best with 19 baskets from beyond the arc.
Durant has totaled 52 points in the season series. He's averaging 30.7 points in his last nine games, but the Thunder have won just three of them.
Oklahoma City matched its lowest point total Saturday and shot below 40.0 percent for only the sixth time by finishing at 38.3. Still, the Thunder led by two entering the fourth quarter.
"You can overcome a tough shooting night if you can defend at a high level," coach Billy Donovan said. "We didn't shoot the ball particularly well the entire game, our defense kept us in there."
The Blazers won for the second time in six games with Saturday's 121-84 rout of Orlando. Lillard scored 19 with 10 assists as six Portland players scored at least 10 one night after a 128-112 loss at Golden State.
"We're on the road a bunch this month and these games are that much more important," coach Terry Stotts said. "Coming off a tough loss to Golden State and going on the road, we know the importance of the game and this game in particular."
Lillard has totaled 36 points in his last two games after a three-game stretch in which he averaged 39.0.