Thunder vs Trail Blazers : The Portland Trail Blazers couldn’t contain Russell Westbrook for three quarters, but they made plays when needed Thursday night. Even though the Oklahoma City Thunder star scored 45 points The Oklahoma City Thunder will officially be down a man this evening when they take the floor for their matchup with the Portland Trail Blazers. According to multiple reports, Thunder head coach Billy The Portland Trail Blazers have struggled during the early portion of the 2016-17 campaign after reaching the second round of the playoffs last season, but they looked the part of a contender on Tuesday
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The Thunder shot 47.8 percent from behind the 3-point line, going 11 of 23. Until a miss in the last couple minutes by Paul George, OKC was over 50 percent. Had it stayed above that mark, it would’ve been the second straight game that OKC hit at least half its shots from behind the arc. Still, it was the eighth game in the last night that the Thunder has shot better than 38.7 percent from three. It’s been an amazing turnaround for a team that struggled early to hit anything from deep. Players are hitting shots, but the ball movement and shot selection have been the biggest drivers in the change.
The Portland Trail Blazers couldn’t contain Russell Westbrook for three quarters, but they made plays when needed Thursday night.
Even though the Oklahoma City Thunder star scored 45 points, a more balanced effort from the Blazers helped them come away with a 114-109 home win.
Jusuf Nurkic was a breakout performer in his first home game at the Moda Center, filling up the stat sheet with 18 points, 12 rebounds, six assists and five blocks.
The real-life return of Derrick Rose – 2011 MVP Rose, not 2015 torn meniscus Rose – was the talk of Chicago following the Bulls’ 103-91 Game 1 victory over the visiting Milwaukee Bucks. Not only did he score 23 points and knock down a trio of three-pointers in the third quarter, he also he looked like the old version of himself, attacking the basket and finishing with that athletic contorting that originally made him famous. Some thought Rose would require some time to get back to full speed, but he did not. He looked great, as good as he’s looked in three years, which just so happens to be how long it’s been since he played a playoff game.
Milwaukee is a good defensive team, though – much better than they showed in the series opener on Saturday. Chicago needs to stay hot offensively to keep the Bucks on their toes, especially if they plan on pushing the pace again in Game 2. Rose was a 28 percent three-point shooter during the regular season, but he shot 3-for-7 in Game 1. It’s hard to think that’s sustainable, but Rose hitting his threes makes him absolutely impossible to guard. That does nothing but help Chicago.
Beyond Derrick, though, Jimmy Butler looked great, suckering the Bucks into silly fouls and scoring from all over the floor. Led by Rose and Butler, the Bulls are flaunting serious chemistry right now and look like they’re firing on all cylinders already. Momentum can shift at any point in a seven-game series, but the Bulls have all of it right now.
If Milwaukee is going to change that, they’re going to have to run a more efficient offense. Milwaukee started off Game 1 hot but then fell off the map, not necessarily because Chicago was stifling them on offense but because they really just weren’t taking good shots, resulting in the team shooting under 40 percent from the field. Early in the game, Giannis Antetokounmpo attacked the basket and saw some really positive results, but by the second half he was settling for jump shots, most of which he was not making. O.J. Mayo really put a kink in the offensive flow in the second half too (he finished 1-for-7 in Game 1), and it was at that point that it really started to look like Game 1 wouldn’t be a particularly close one.
Khris Middleton had a slow first quarter and missed a handful of shots pretty badly, but when it was all said done he had picked things up and finished the game with a team-high 18 points. He’s capable of playing full games the way he did the second half of Game 1, and Milwaukee probably won’t win much unless Middleton is consistently better this series.
Generally speaking, however, the Bucks just don’t have the kind of star power that the Bulls do. While Milwaukee was great on Saturday at forcing turnovers, Middleton, Antetokounmpo and Michael Carter-Williams are an interesting core for the future, but so far they look a little shell-shocked. All three players will need to burgeon more quickly in Game 2 for Milwaukee to have a shot at winning a game in this series, let alone the series itself.
The NBA All-Star Break is nearly upon us with the playoffs only a few months away. After an exciting trade deadline, most of the East’s top contenders have made moves to be even more competitive. In the Western Conference, the Golden State Warriors recently moved into first place and are unlikely to yield that position. In fact, odds are Golden State will again be hoisting the championship trophy when the playoffs are over.
While the Warriors are heavy favorites, there is still some intrigue in the race for the final playoff seeds in the West as eighth, ninth and tenth place are currently occupied by the Los Angeles Clippers, the Sacramento Kings and the Los Angeles Lakers, respectively. Let’s take a look at where things currently stand.
Los Angeles Clippers
The Los Angeles Clippers have long been in the playoff picture. At one point they held first place in the conference. But this team has overperformed early and things have been settling down since then. Many pre-season predictions had the team finishing somewhere around 10th place. Their downward descent is not a surprise based on the strength of the other Western Conference teams. While the team’s playoff standing has slipped, the front office set its sights on the future when they traded forward Tobias Harris to the Philadelphia 76ers.
By trading away the team’s best players in Harris, the Clippers obtained, among other things, two first-round picks and two second-round picks. In further bolstering the team’s long-term future, it’s likely the team’s ability to remain in eighth place or move up has been hampered. This isn’t as problematic as it sounds, however, as the Clippers will forfeit next year’s first-round pick if they make the playoffs this season. Should the Clippers fall outside this year’s top-8, the team’s obligation to convey a first-round pick to Boston is delayed until the next year. By next season, the team may be much improved depending on next this summer’s free agency results.
Since beating the Warriors in the first round of the 2014 playoffs, the Clippers have had little luck against Golden State. With the team’s attention on the future beyond this season’s playoffs, making it to the postseason appears to be less of a priority with a potential sweep by the Warriors on tap. Just don’t tell that to the players themselves, who just staged an exciting 28-point comeback against the Boston Celtics, led by the hot shooting of newly acquired rookie guard Landry Shamet.
The Kings haven’t garnered as much attention in the league in recent years but that doesn’t mean they have been quiet. While 2017 No. 2 pick Lonzo Ball and No. 3 pick Jayson Tatum have had to deal with their names being mentioned in various potential trades for superstar Anthony Davis, De’Aaron Fox has been able to play this season without hearing his name in rumored trades and meanwhile has been turning in a spectacular sophomore campaign. Around him, the Kings added previous Mavericks-cornerstone Harrison Barnes, who helps to fill the gap at small forward. In addition to Fox and Barnes, the Kings feature Buddy Hield, who is also having a breakout season, talented rookie Marvin Bagley, Bogdan Bogdanovic and potential future standout Harry Giles.
General Manager Vlade Divac has been on the receiving end of some tough criticism the past few years after some questionable moves. Despite this, now the Kings front office has the team well poised to stay competitive now (despite the loss of well-liked veteran Iman Shumpert) and for the future as well. The Kings are one game behind the Clippers and are well-positioned to eventually leapfrog them and jump into the eighth seed.
While the Warriors likely await, the Kings can reward their long-suffering fans and potentially capture a larger audience to showcase their talented team. In addition, the franchise could also have a rematch with former Kings franchise star DeMarcus Cousins. The prospect of a sweep isn’t so bad when the franchise hasn’t been back to the playoffs since the 2005-2006 season and would relish the opportunity to play past the regular season.
The Lakers have had a rough couple of weeks. After the very public tug-of-war with New Orleans over Davis, the Lakers have had to deal with possible fallout of having dangled nearly the entire team to potentially obtain Davis. Add that on top of James’s untimely midseason groin injury and Ball’s recent injury issues, and the result is uneven basketball that knocked the Lakers out of the playoff picture. At the deadline, the Lakers were able to add two capable shooters in Reggie Bullock and Mike Muscala, which will hopefully add the shooting and spacing Los Angeles has desperately needed.
Armed with a better fitting roster, a healthy James and the potential for a strong finish, it would be unwise to bet against the Lakers finding a way into the playoffs. Moving past the Clippers and Kings won’t be easy but it can be done. Like the Kings, the Lakers would have an unfavorable likely matchup with the Warriors awaiting. Regardless, missing the playoffs with James would be very disappointing. Don’t discount the chance for drama with a first-round rematch of James and the Warriors, however one-sided. Another outside possibility, the Warriors take their foot off of the gas pedal allowing the Denver Nuggets to retake first place. While the Lakers are relatively young outside of James, the Nuggets best players are also untested in the postseason and could make for an exciting matchup.
Again, Golden State will likely run right through any team it may face in the first round of the playoffs. But the race for eighth remains interested and each team has its own reasons for jockeying for the West’s final two playoff spots.