By Randy Renner, Senior Writer
Pay close attention to what happens tonight between the Thunder and the Portland Trail Blazers because you may end up seeing a lot more of these two going up against each other in April.
Coming into tonight’s game the Thunder are clinging to third place in the Western Conference, but slipping toward fourth. The Blazers are in the sixth spot but making a move toward fifth.
In next month’s playoffs the third place team will play the team in the sixth spot and the fourth place team plays the fifth.
So there are a couple of scenarios that would lead to a Oklahoma City-Portland matchup and that might prove to be difficult for the Thunder.
OKC has lost eight of the last 12, Portland has cooled off a little and is just 5-5 over the last 10 games but going back a bit the Blazers have won 20 of their last 28.
The two teams have split the season series so far with the Thunder winning at The Peake 106-90 in December and the Trail Blazers winning in Portland 115-110 on January 10th.
That January game was the one where Damian Lillard got blazing hot in the last three minutes, hitting five 3-pointers to almost single-handedly snatch a win from the Thunder (one of 12 games in which they’ve lost the game after losing a lead in the fourth quarter). The rest of the Blazers were pretty good with the long ball in that game too hitting a season-high 19 threes.
Lillard had 31 points that night but in the earlier season game in OKC he was just 6-for-20 for 20 points. His counterpart, Thunder superstar Russell Westbrook, didn’t fare too well in that game either going just 5-for-15 for 13 points. In Portland, Westbrook, like Lillard, had a big game with 25 points and 15 assists.
The PG battle could go a long way toward deciding tonight’s game but how much attention the Thunder pay to details like say holding on to the basketball will go a lot further.
The Thunder have turned the ball over a whopping 132 times in their eight losses since the All-Star break and Westbrook had nine all by himself Saturday against the Spurs.
"We have to start making better decisions, starting with myself," Westbrook said after the game.. "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."
Now, to add to the turnover troubles, the offense seems to be cratering.
OKC scored just 96 points in a loss at home to Minnesota last week, a team that came in with the third worst defense in the NBA, and they followed that up by scoring just 85 points (tying for their fewest this season) Saturday night at San Antonio. This while the defense was holding both teams below 100 points.
All this while the Thunder’s other superstar Kevin Durant has been playing at high level. He’s averaging 30.7 points over the last nine games but the Thunder have won just three of those contests.
It is a perplexing situation to be sure. To their credit the Thunder still seem upbeat, at least they were this morning at shootaround. Who knows what their attitude will be late tonight after this latest matchup against a team they may have to face in the near future when games count a lot more than they do now.
Tipoff tonight is set for 7:10 at Chesapeake Energy Arena and you can see the game on Fox Sports Oklahoma. Follow me on Twitter @RandyRenner for updates from the arena and we’ll have full video postgame report featuring reaction from the Thunder lockerroom after the game.