Thunder Lose Heartbreaker In The Desert, Portland Next
By Randy Renner
Back-to-backs are never easy in the NBA and as things have turned out the Thunder now face a particularly difficult one.
They battled back from behind all night long late last night in Phoenix only lose 117-113 in overtime and now must play the Northwest Division leading Portland Trail Blazers less than 24 hours later.
To make matters worse, Thunder point guard Russell Westbrook tweaked an ankle on the final possession of the game last night but told The Oklahoman's Darnell Mayberry that would be able to play tonight against the Blazers.
The Thunder are hoping to have enough energy to go the distance against Portland but the up-and-down game in Phoenix last night will make that difficult at best.
Westbrook had another triple-double, his second straight and third this month, with 39 points, 14 rebounds and 11 assists. Those numbers are eye-popping but even Russ admitted after the game, "Honestly I think I was actually shooting too much." He put up 38 shots, 25 more than any other Thunder player, and hit just 12.
"I think I got to do a better job of trusting my teammates more," Westbrook said. "I'm not saying I don't, but consistently trusting them regardless of what is going on, regardless of the time, score and possession. Just find a way to trust them and let them make some plays as well."
About as candid a comment as you will ever hear from Russ and as good, great as he's been that has traditionally be his main fault. Trying to do too much by himself, especially when his fellow superstar Kevin Durant has been sidelined as he is now.
But Westbrook has been playing at such an incredibly high level lately he can be forgiven for trying to do it all, because more often than not he has. He's on pace to become just the second player in NBA history to go through an entire month while maintaining averages of at least 30 points, 10 assists and eight rebounds. He would join Hall of Famer Oscar Robertson on that very short list.
The problem for the Thunder last night wasn't really Russ taking too many shots, the problem was Phoenix making too many.
The Suns shot 49.5 percent last night. The Thunder came into the game with the NBA's best defense since January 26th, holding opponents to just 40.9 percent shooting. Enes Kanter, who has been outstanding on offense so far and had 18 points last night, was abused in pick-and-roll situations by Eric Bledsoe who scored 28 points for Phoenix.
The Thunder flew up to Portland right after the game and will not have a shootaround today in order to try and be as fresh as possible for tonight's tipoff.
The Trail Blazers are coming off an impressive win against San Antonio on Wednesday but star forward LaMarcus Aldridge continued his recent struggles. He scored just 11 points on 5-for-19 shooting. Aldridge is playing with a sprained thumb and over his last three games he's averaged 14.3 points on 29.1 percent shooting.
Facing Oklahoma City at home may help Aldridge get back on track, however, as he has averaged 26.6 points on 50.3 percent shooting in his last eight matchups in Portland.
The Trail Blazers had dropped nine of 11 in the series prior to winning the first two this season, beginning with a 106-89 home win in both teams' openers on Oct. 29. They also won 115-111 in overtime at Oklahoma City on December 23rd with Damian Lillard and Westbrook each scoring 40.
Tonight's game should tipoff at about 9:40, it's the second game of a national TV double-header on ESPN. You can also see the game on Fox Sports Oklahoma.