Could Thunder's Loss In Portland Be Beneficial?

By Randy Renner, Senior Writer

After having already been locked as the #3 seed in the Western Conference playoffs Thunder coach Billy Donovan opted to sit every Thunder starter except Steven Adams for last night’s game in Portland.

It was the first time Donovan has gone all Gregg Popovich when it comes to resting star players but coming on the second night of a back-to-back it certainly seemed like a good spot for it.

"My thinking on holding everyone out is just to rest our guys," Donovan said. "It was a great opportunity to get those guys some extra rest and have two days before going to Sacramento."

The Thunder reserves cranked out plenty of points but struggled defensively losing 120-115. It was still a pretty solid showing considering the Trail Blazers really needed to win the game and the Thunder were mostly just working on getting some quality game time for the backups.

And that’s where the benefit could come in. First the Blazers moved into a tie with Memphis for 5th place in the West. The Thunder would prefer to avoid another trip out to Portland for what would be at least two games in a first round playoff series. A short flight to Memphis to play a team that’s struggling because of injuries would seem to be a much better option.

Trouble is, with all their injuries and a tough closing schedule, the Grizzlies could finish lower than sixth. The Thunder still would rather not have to travel half way across the country.

So there’s that and the more confidence and cohesion the backups can get going into the playoffs the better.

Enes Kanter got his first start and took full advantage.

“Serge and KD and Russell didn’t play, so I knew we needed offense out there,” Kanter said.

And offense is something Kanter can provide. He became the first Thunder player ever to have a 30/20 night. He scored 33 points on 13-for-18 shooting and pulled down 20 rebounds, nine of them off the offensive glass.

Dion Waiters had a big night too with 25 points on 10-for-19 shooting. Anthony Morrow also started, hit three 3s and finished with 19 points on 7-for-15 shooting.

OKC shot 47.3 percent and outrebounded Portland 50-39.

The problems came on defense where the Thunder allowed the Blazers to score 33 points in the first quarter and 39 in the second (on 65 percent shooting) and finish the game shooting 51.2 percent. OKC had trouble containing both forward Al-Farouq Aminu and shooting guard C.J. McCollum. Aminu had 27 points and did damage both inside, with some layups and dunks, and outside hitting three 3s.

Kanter and Adams struggled at times to guard the smaller, more agile Aminu.

“I knew it was gonna be a hard matchup,” Donovan said. “But Steven is an athletic guy who can move his feet. On a back-to-back without a lot of time to prepare, I thought he did a pretty good job.”

McCollum dropped in 26 and hit four 3s.

The good news was the Thunder didn’t have much of a problem with Damian Lillard, he managed just 11 points on 2-for-13 shooting.

The Thunder now have a couple of days to get everyone rested up for a game in Sacramento. At the moment indications are OKC will go with the regular lineup Saturday night against the Kings.

The Thunder will probably do the same Monday night at home when Kobe Bryant and the Lakers make their last appearance at The Peake.

Then on Tuesday for the season finale at San Antonio you could easily see Donovan rest his starters again.