Author - Chuck Chaney

Thunder, Westbrook march towards crossroads

Your success as a player is measured in awards and rings. That’s it. The good you do off the court, for the most part, is non-existent once you step off the court for the last time. Most players are fully aware of this. It’s why they’re ring chasin’, money hungry athletes.

That’s no difference to Russell Westbrook.

The 30-year old is facing a tipping point his career. Facing a 3-1 deficit for the third straight season, Westbrook’s career, which has been draped in All-Star appearances, triple-doubles and an MVP, sits at a point where he’s falling off. Oklahoma City has won a combined four games since Kevin Durant left OKC and everyone, including Westbrook knows it.

How much of Oklahoma City’s playoff disappearance is his, how much falls on the coaching staff and front office remains to be seen at this point. However, the two are going hand-in-hand.

Westbrook’s pitiful shooting performance in the series is nothing new. We’ve seen it for three seasons. He’s 152-of-393 (38.75 percent) in 15 playoff games in the post-KD era. He’s 35-of-114 (30.7 percent) from three.

An offense built around a superstar who’s wildly inefficient when it matters puts blame directly where it’s due as well. Billy Donovan’s offense often reverts back to old habits of ISO offense and hero ball. Sam Presti’s inability to recruit quality NBA longball threats to put around Westbrook is also glaring.

Westbrook has adapted. In the PKDE, Westbrook has put his name in the hat as the best point guard in the NBA in terms of getting his teammates involved. He’s led the league in potential assists and real assists the last three seasons.

When the Thunder re-signed Westbrook back in August of 2016, it was a requirement. Sure, they could’ve let Westbrook walk on his one-year deal and reset. The Thunder knew that was really impossible and so did Westbrook. The two used the the Durant situations for their own good. Oklahoma City gave their fan base stability in the loss of one of the greatest players in NBA history. Re-signing Westbrook meant they had a foundation going forward and it put the minds at ease. They had a starting point for starting over. Westbrook got paid. He’s the second highest player in the NBA. While Westbrook is beloved, there are glaring issues that could be addressed at the time, but the Thunder knew what they were getting themselves into.

It paid off initially. Westbrook had a historic year. He kept Oklahoma City in the playoffs and a season of “let’s see what happens” turned into a memory of a lifetime.

Fast forward three years and an almost 31-year-old Westbrook is facing a career bad year, in terms of shooting splits. His three-point percentage is the seventh worst single season in NBA history. Westbrook has faced five knee procedures all on the right knee.

At what point does a player who’s game is predicated by his athleticism finds a way to adjust his game? His explosion to the rim seemed off at times this season. Is that due to a knee that probably never healed? Probably not. We’ve seen some massive dunks from Westbrook, just not as many in year’s past. Is it an adjustment to his game knowing he is not always going to have that explosiveness?

There’s little think Westbrook’s hand, which has been wrapped for most of the playoffs, could face some sort of procedure in the offseason.

There’s not much time left in this window, the one with Paul George and Westbrook. Put up or shut up.

When the time comes to make that decision, will it be too late for the Thunder?

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Trail Blazers Meltdown Game 3

  • If we can win this game, the series is effectively over. LET’S GO!!!!
  • Questions we need answers to.
  • Who would win in a game of horse.
    Westbrick or Meyers Leonard?
    Who is more emotional.
    Westbrick or Meyers Leonard.
  • All time, the Blazers have taken a 2-0 lead 14 times. They won all 14 series.
  • can’t see them having more 3s than us.
  • Blazers need to treat this game like it’s game 7.
  • Do the Warriors treat every game like Game 7?
  • who cares?
  • The uni colors are not important. Seeing Westbrick suffer and Adams falter,is what I want.
  • As long as we get to 4 wins before they do I’m good.
  • If we can take that initial hit by OkC and be closed at half we will likely win game tonight.
  • This game is gonna tell me a lot about our team.
  • OKC broke out the special butt ugly jerseys for tonight.
  • Were not ready. Cool.
  • Okc has to feel bad being down after how wee started
  • Hi. My name is Moe harkless, and I like ass.
  • They’re hitting three’s tonight.
  • Adams shoved damian and than said “your big man should’ve yelled”
  • If you don’t use kanter on offense why play him
  • Did the commentators just assume there is going to be a game 5
  • God i hate Evan so much.
  • I dont like how our offense looks. This cant go well over 4 quarters.
  • Have I ever mentioned how much I hate platooning in the bench lol.
  • Why isn’t Stotts leaving one of Dame or Cj in with these scrubs
  • cant get a single high % shot, dame looks bad
  • Turnover Turnover Turnover Turnover Turnover Turnover Turnover Turnover Turnover
  • This game is butt-ugly but we’re right in it.
  • Leonard can’t let Adams back him down
  • I HATE MEYERS LEONARD SO MUCH.
  • Another fan makes the half court shot! Another $20,000!
  • Unfortunately we can’t ask for more the way thunder are playing but we really need Dame to show up
  • Damn how are we down when okc is plying terrible
  • Right we are playing just stupid basketball
  • Really Stotts, you choose now to get your first tech in months?
  • Adams would make a good fullback.
  • Blazers suck tonight
  • What a shit first half. Fourteen turnovers? What the f***.
  • I don’t usually complain about officiating but you know what? &%%&^**&^%O^&*(&%&*^*&^%$^!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!
  • So now we’re shooting like shit from three, and they’re shooting 46% from three. There’s your difference.
  • It won’t last.
  • Falling asleep on Paul George?
  • I think this series is going to be one of those where everybody just wins on their home court
  • We have 21 points over the last 14:22
  • Westbrook might be player I hate the most in this league. Absolute c***
  • I agree he’s an arrogant prick
  • Man if we can get this game closer and Dame goes HAM thunder will start panicking thinking of being down 0-3
  • and just like that we have a game…
  • Everyone is going to foul out.
  • Westbrook hits and three then they turn it over.
  • When Grant is hitting threes….
  • AGAIN WITH THESE BS TOUCH FOULS!
  • What a quarter by Dame. Screw you haters.
  • I love it. Meyers with the screeeeeeaaaam.
  • George blatantly baiting for FTs lol what a BI***.
  • Maybe if we just flop every time they touch us we will get FTs too.
  • OKC with four trillion free throws.
  • they deserve to lose
  • Dame beating both OKC and the refs that quarter.
  • We are going to win this game!!!
  • OWN THE ENDGAME!!!!!!!!!
  • Theyre gettin nervous
  • George just dry humping the f*** out of whoever he guards.
  • statsbrook back in, we need to tighten up n keep the ball safe.
  • Must be nice to get a whistle on every possession.
  • haha were gonna be in the penalty for 8 minutes
  • Refs certainly earned their paychecks tonight. F*** wads.
  • Grant f***ed us
  • Need to answer after this timeout or it could get away from them.
  • We have the best player and I think we’re gonna win
  • Westbrook with three off a board we should have had.
  • When Russ is hitting threes, you know it’s not your night.
  • Stotts coached a terrible game today. Holy hell, he’s right back to his normal self.
  • Perfect storm tonight. Terrible first half with a million turnovers. OKC hot from three and getting way more calls.
  • This rock the baby is the dumbest shit ive ever seen. Not even remotely interesting
  • Vegas had OKC -8
  • legit a game we could have won easy with a few thousand less idiotic turnovers.
  • someone needs to take the rim down and beat us to death with it
  • You’ve got to be kidding me with these Westbrook threes.
  • Westbrick is such a piece of shit lol
  • I hate Westbrook. I actually hate him.
  • i probably wouldn’t be sad if westbrook sustained an injury at this point.
  • He is really a trash human being.
  • Classy as f*** PG you little b****
  • joke of a team
  • Dame would never do that..he has respect for the game and control of his emotions
  • Blazers will be in trouble if they don’t win Sunday
  • This sucks
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Westbrook keeps his word, Thunder win Game 3

Westbrook said he had to player better after Game 2. He kept his word.

Westbrook scored 33 points, dished out 11 assists as Oklahoma City beat the Portland Trail Blazers 120-108 in Game 3 on Friday night.

With the win, the Thunder pull within 2-1 in the series.

“He’s a man of his words,” Paul George said. “He came out and led. We got behind him. He put us on his back.”

Oklahoma City led for most of the game and by as many as 16 in the contest. It was a drastic change from the first two games, where Oklahoma City had to overcome double digit deficits to get back into each contest.

“I keep playing the same way, being aggressive,” Westbrook said. “I pick my spots and concentrating and pick my spot and it’s over.”

The Thunder hit threes after not being able to hit any, basically, for the first two games of the season. Oklahoma City nailed 15 three-pointers, compared to just 10 in the first two combined. Five different players nailed two or more 3s. The Thunder finished 15-of-29 from the arc.

The 15 made threes by the Thunder tied a franchise playoff record.

“Those are shots we’ve gotten through the course of the first 2 games but we made them tonight,” Donovan said. “I thought we generated better shots for a full 48 minutes.”

Paul George added 22 points, Jerami Grant had 18 and Dennis Schroder 17 for the Thunder.

“They’ve been hitting shots all year,” Westbrook said. “Like I said in Game 1 and 2, we’ll continue to trust our teammates.”

Oklahoma City closed the second quarter on a 10-1 run to take a 49-39 lead at the break.

George hit a 3-pointer, was fouled and made the free throw in the opening minutes of the second half to push Oklahoma City’s lead to 55-43. Westbrook backed down Lillard, hit a bank shot and was fouled. Westbrook hit the jumper and the free throws, putting Oklahoma City up 15.

Lillard scored 25 points in the third quarter but the Thunder had a response for every throw the Blazers had. It was the will of a team with their backs against the wall. It was started by Westbrook, continued by the bench and finished by Westbrook.

“It was a great environment tonight, Thunder head coach Billy Donovan said. “We needed them tonight. The encouragement of the crowd really helped us get back on track.”

Oklahoma City is now 5-0 all-time when they go down 2-0. They’re 1-3 in those series when they do fall back 2-0.

The Thunder will host Portland in Game 4 of the series on Sunday, April 21 at 8:30 p.m. Tip-off will occur on ESPN and Fox Sports Oklahoma.

Keys to the Game

Good Russ: A+

Good Russell Westbrook was all over the place. Despite some struggles in his shooting early on, the Thunder needed all of good Russ for this one. Westbrook seemed to be in a zone in the second half. He dictated the pace of place and consistently kept Oklahoma City above water.

Role Players: A+

Jerami Grant and Dennis Schröder stepped up. They were pivotal for the Thunder’s lead throughout the second half. Oklahoma City needed Grant and Schröder in the worst way. They say role players play better at home. That was definitely true tonight.

Control turnovers: B

Oklahoma City turned it over 15 times for 13 Portland points. Oklahoma City had given up 16 points in the third of Game 2 off turnovers. The Thunder did a much better game in Game 3. They’ll have to carry that over to Game 4 if they’re going to level the series.

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Hamidou Diallo out four weeks

Oklahoma City Thunder guard Hamidou Diallo underwent a successful arthroscopic procedure on his right elbow today, Thunder Executive Vice President and General Manager Sam Presti announced.

The procedure was performed by Dr. David Altchek with Thunder medical personnel present at the Hospital for Special Surgery in New York City.

During the 2018-19 season, Diallo appeared in 51 games for the Thunder and averaged 3.7 points and 1.9 rebounds in 10.3 minutes per game. After one season at the University of Kentucky, Diallo was selected by Oklahoma City with the 45th pick in the 2018 NBA Draft.

Diallo had been inactive for a handful of games in the second half of the season. He only appeared 11 games over the final 36 games. He played more than 10 minutes only twice over that span. Seven of the games had him in action for two minutes or less.

He was also the 2019 NBA All-Star slam dunk champion.

Diallo is expected to return to basketball-related activities in approximately four weeks.

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Thunder fall back 2-0 with loss to Portland

A 10-point lead evaporated in a blink of an eye and the Thunder were never the same. Oklahoma City lost 114-94 to the Portland Trail Blazers on Tuesday night to fall back 2-0 in the best of seven series.

Portland would outscore Oklahoma City 33-10 after Oklahoma City went up double digits. It started with a stupid foul. Damian Lillard was fouled on a three by Jerami Grant. It would change the game. CJ McCollum would nail a three at the end of the half, tying it up. The game might have been over at that point.

Oklahoma City’s ineptitude at shooting the three, the Portland adjustments that made Billy Donovan resemble the coach he was back at Marshall. Terry Stotts squashing any concerns Portland fans had about his job. The second half was nothing but a dumpster fire for the Thunder.

“I have to play better,” Russell Westbrook said. “I take full responsibility for tonight. The way I played was unacceptable.”

Westbrook went 5-of-20 from the floor and 1-of-6 from three was abysmal on both sides of the floor. He either was lazy getting up the floor due to non-calls or he committed stupid fouls due to frustration. It’s not a regular season game against the Phoenix Suns. This happened in a playoff game where the Thunder are now in a hole that only six other teams had climbed out of. None of which has happened since 2016, when Boston beat Chicago 4-2.

Westbrook finished with 14 points, nine rebounds and 11 assists. He was pulled with 3:31 with most of his fellow starters after Portland built a 112-91 lead.

Paul George had 27 points despite lingering questions about his right shoulder, which was covered with kinesiology tape.

Oklahoma City started with a lot more energy than in Game 1, when it fell behind by 19 points in the first half. When Westbrook hit a 3-pointer in the first quarter, he pounded his chest and the Thunder went on to lead 31-26 at the end of the period.

Lillard hit a 3-pointer and was fouled to close the Blazers within 48-43. But the game began to get heated, with Lillard and Westbrook getting into it when Lillard tried to strip the ball. The officials reviewed it for a “hostile act” but concluded there were no fouls on the play. It was chippy for much of the game, and at one point Lillard and Steven Adams stared each other down after Adams set a screen on the All-Star guard.

Oklahoma City finished 5-of-28 from three. They’re 10-of-61 for the series. If you’re going to beat the Trail Blazers, let alone even compete with them in a seven-game series, you have to hit your threes. Lillard is 9-of-19 in the series, so the shooting shouldn’t be this close.

“For the most part, I think we got fairly decent looks and we’re going to have to take them,” Thunder head coach Billy Donovan said. “As the ball gets driven downhill, and teams bring help and protect the rim, you just can’t force the ball in there and take tough, ill-advised shots. And when the ball gets sprayed back out to the perimeter and guys are open, it’s hard to say, `OK, just drive it right back to the help again and hope they move out of the way.”

Game 3 is scheduled to tip-off at 8:30 p.m. Thunder Time on Thursday night at the ‘Peake. Oklahoma City is 4-0 all-time when they trail a series 2-0. They’re 1-3 overall in those series outcomes.

Keys to the Game

Playoff P: C

George was alright. He once again struggled from three and was largely ineffective in the second half. He didn’t get the open looks he was given in Game 1. However, there were some red flags on his shooting, the grabbing of the shoulder, etc. Oklahoma City needs George healthy.

Hustle Bestbrook: F

Westbrook said it best. This loss is on him. While this is a 5-of-5. It starts with Westbrook. He has to be and play smarter.

Rim Protection: C

Meh. They barely outrebounded a team that’s missing their best rebounded. They didn’t let Kanter get the best of them tonight but it didn’t matter. The Trail Blazers nailed all of the threes and more. Oklahoma City didn’t really need to protect the rim because Portland was too busy setting it on fire.

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Thunder Playoff Game Day #2: at Portland Trail Blazers

Portland leads the series 1-0

Sunday, April 16 :: 9:30 p.m. CST :: Moda Center (19,980)
TV Coverage: TNT (245 DirecTV, 31 Cox, 730 HD 108 AT&T U-Verse, 138 Dish)
Radio Coverage: 98.1 FM/640AM/97.1 Tulsa
View from the enemyHere.
Line: The Oklahoma City Thunder are a 2-point underdog. The over/under is 222.
Online StreamWatch ESPN | WWLS Sports Animal | Live Stats | Twitter | Facebook
Game Notes: Thunder: here | Blazers: here

SETTING THE SEASON

  • The Oklahoma City Thunder dropped Game 1 to the Portland Trail Blazers 104-99 on Sunday afternoon. Portland nabs the 1-0 series lead.
  • Russell Westbrook had his ninth playoff triple-double but wasn’t enough in the loss.
  • Oklahoma City trailed by as many as 19 in the first half before pulling within 93-92 late in the fourth quarter.
  • Teams that win the first game of a best-of-seven series at home go on to win the series 76.6% of the time (98-30).
  • NBA teams who trails 1-0 on the road are 120-267. So, historically, this is an uphill battle for the Thunder.
  • Despite being just 4-4 after losing Game 1, the Thunder are 3-5 in those series. They’ve come back from being down 2-0 once, in 2012 against San Antonio. They have never been swept in the playoff (since relocation).

FOLLOWING THE ACTION

  • You can catch the radio on Oklahoma City’s WWLS, 98.1 FM. Matt Pinto will be your play-by-play voice. If you’re in Tulsa, catch it on 1450 AM.
  • Mike Breen, Jeff Van Gundy, Mark Jackson & Lisa Salters will have the call on ABC.

SCOUTING THE ENEMY

  • The Portland Trail Blazers went 53-29 on the season, finishing third in the Western Conference.
  • In their last 10 games, the Trail Blazers went 8-2.
  • In their last game, Portland overcame a 28-point deficit, beating the Sacramento Kings 136-131 on April 11.
  • Oklahoma City swept Portland in the regular season 4-0.
  • All-time the Thunder are 120-116 against the Blazers.
  • Since relocating to Oklahoma City, the Thunder are 22-22 against Portland.
  • The Thunder are 2-8 in their last 10 games at the Rose Garden.
  • Portland and the Thunder are tied 2-2 in playoff series wins. Haven’t met since 1991.
  • INJURY REPORT:
    Jusuf Nurkic (leg) is out.
  • The Thunder’s largest margin of victory over Portland came on March 24, 2013, where Oklahoma City prevailed by a score of 103-83 (20-point margin of victory).
  • Meanwhile, the Thunder’s largest margin of defeat (35 points) vs. Portland occurred during a 107-72 loss on April 3, 2009.

THUNDER INJURY REPORT

  • Andre Roberson (ruptured patellar tendon) is out.
  • Hamidou Diallo (elbow) is out.

UNIFORM WATCH



Keys to the Game

Playoff P

Paul George needs to play like the Paul George from the regular season against Portland. He averaged 38 pts per game against Portland during the regular season. OKC doesn’t need that kind of production, but they do need playoff P, or at least regular season MVPG. While George is nursing a shoulder injury that has nagged him for a few weeks, he may need to drive to the rim more and draw contact instead of settling for three point shots; at least until he finds his rhythm. Players like George, who admittedly went three days without shooting a basketball after the Rockets’ game, can often find their shooting stroke at the free throw line. It might seem counterintuitive for an injured player to seek fouls, but at this point in the playoffs it is win or go home.

Hustle Bestbrook

Russell Westbrook was the best player for the Thunder and he will need to continue that patience while balanced with the Westbrook aggression we all know and love (and sometimes hate). While he did fall asleep on a late, deep 4th quarter three pointer by Damian Lillard, he was looking for Lillard to run a pick’n’roll with Enes Kanter.

Rim protection

Speaking of Kanter; all OKC fans love Kanter while he was with OKC but now he is destroying the Thunder on the boards with relentless rebounding, especially on the offensive glass against smaller Thunder players after Steven Adams was forced to help against Lillard and C.J. McCollum in the pick’n’roll and dribble drive. Overall, the Thunder rim protection and rebounding effort was dreadful.

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Are you worried after Game 1?

The Thunder dropped Game 1 after shooting an abysmal 5-of-33 from deep. People not named George and Ferguson went 0-of-16 from deep. The team couldn’t stop Enes Kanter.. and the rest was history.

Teams that win the first game of a best-of-seven series at home go on to win the series 76.6% of the time (98-30).

NBA teams who trails 1-0 on the road are 120-267. So, historically, this is an uphill battle for the Thunder.

Despite being just 4-4 after losing Game 1, the Thunder are 3-5 in those series. They’ve come back from being down 2-0 once, in 2012 against San Antonio. They have never been swept in the playoff (since relocation).

Are you worried about the Thunder going forward in the series?

Are you worried after Game 1?

View Results

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Thunder Digits: Thunder drop Game 1

The Oklahoma City Thunder dropped Game 1 in Portland. The Trail Blazers, who were favored by 3½ to start the game, did what they should’ve to take care of business. For the Thunder, it’s all about stealing Game 2. With that said, here are some Thunder’s by the numbers:

18

Oklahoma City allowed Enes Kanter to pull down 18 rebounds

7

Seven of those 18 were offensive.

28

The Thunder missed 28 three-pointers in their loss to Portland in Game 1.

44

The Portland Trail Blazers shot 44 percent from three (11-of-25).

37

Oklahoma City’s bench which is probably one of the most important keys to the Thunder’s series success, went 10-of-27 from the field, only 37 percent.

1

Russell Westbrook finished with 24 points, 10 rebounds and 10 assists for his ninth career playoff triple-double. He’s now sixth all-time in playoff triple-doubles. Magic Johnson is No. 1 with 30.

2

Only two Thunder players hit threes tonight, Paul George and Terrance Ferguson. George was 4-of-15; Ferguson was 1-of-2. The rest of the team went 0-of-16.

19

The largest lead by Portland. It came midway in the second quarter when Portland went up 47-28 with 9:41 to go in the second quarter.

87

The Thunder shot an impressive 87 percent from the free throw line, going 20-of-23. Adams, Schröder and Morris all had the misses. Russell Westbrook went 8-of-8 at the line.

6

There are six games left. This is only Game 1. No need for over reactions. Just let Oklahoma City take care of business going forward and this game will be an afterthought.

 

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Thunder Playoff Game Day #1: at Portland Trail Blazers

Series is tied 0-0

Sunday, April 14 :: 2:30 p.m. CST :: Moda Center (19,980)
TV Coverage: Fox Sports Oklahoma (DirectTV 675, Cox 37, HD 722, Tulsa Cox 27)
Radio Coverage: 98.1 FM/640AM/97.1 Tulsa
View from the enemyHere.
Line: The Oklahoma City Thunder are a 3½-point underdog. The over/under is 225.e
Online StreamWatch ESPN | WWLS Sports Animal | Live Stats | Twitter | Facebook
Game Notes: Thunder: here | Blazers: here

FOLLOWING THE ACTION

  • You can catch the radio on Oklahoma City’s WWLS, 98.1 FM. Matt Pinto will be your play-by-play voice. If you’re in Tulsa, catch it on 1450 AM.
  • Mike Breen, Jeff Van Gundy, Mark Jackson & Lisa Salters will have the call on ABC.

SCOUTING THE ENEMY

  • The Portland Trail Blazers went 53-29 on the season, finishing third in the Western Conference.
  • In their last 10 games, the Trail Blazers went 8-2.
  • In their last game, Portland overcame a 28-point deficit, beating the Sacramento Kings 136-131 on April 11.
  • Oklahoma City swept Portland in the regular season 4-0.
  • All-time the Thunder are 120-116 against the Blazers.
  • Since relocating to Oklahoma City, the Thunder are 22-22 against Portland.
  • The Thunder are 2-8 in their last 10 games at the Rose Garden.
  • Portland and the Thunder are tied 2-2 in playoff series wins. Haven’t met since 1991.
  • INJURY REPORT:
    Jusuf Nurkic (leg) is out.
  • The Thunder’s largest margin of victory over Portland came on March 24, 2013, where Oklahoma City prevailed by a score of 103-83 (20-point margin of victory).
  • Meanwhile, the Thunder’s largest margin of defeat (35 points) vs. Portland occurred during a 107-72 loss on April 3, 2009.

THUNDER INJURY REPORT

  • Andre Roberson (ruptured patellar tendon) is out.

UNIFORM WATCH



Keys to the Game

Rebeounding

With Nurkic out for the season, the Thunder have to find a way to beat the Blazers on the boards. If Oklahoma City comes out, beats the glass with the toughness we’ve seen over the last couple of weeks, the Thunder are going to find themselves in the win column early on.

Bench

Oklahoma City’s bench has been super inconsistent. They need Dennis Schröder and Nerlens Noel to step up and do their thing. If Oklahoma City’s bench is invisible, it will probably force Westbrook and Co. to be overworked and maybe try to do too much. If they show up, we could be in a good spot.

Defend the three

The Blazers shot less than 29 percent from three in the four games against Oklahoma City. That’s a credit to the Thunder’s fantastic defense. The Thunder need the defense from pre-ASB to show up. With Lillard and CJ being the sharp shooters they are, limiting their impact is imperative.

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Five storylines to watch

The Thunder and the Blazers are set to tip-off off in the first round of the 2019 NBA Playoffs and there are a lot of story lines for both teams, but you know, Thunder website and all, we’re going to do our best to check out the top five storylines for your Thunder brodies.

George’s shoulder

George has been day-to-day on the injury report with that shoulder that’s been nagging him since just after the All-Star Break. Oklahoma City needs George for this series, and frankly going forward. He leads the league in real plus/minus. They’re Suns bad when he’s off the floor. There’s a reason why he was up for MVP for a large part of the season. The Thunder need a guy who averaged 38 points against the Trail Blazers in the regular season. Any games he misses and the Thunder win, you can consider a steal.

Portland’s 3-point shooting

Damian Lillard and CJ McCollum are two of the scarier 3-point threats in the NBA. However, Oklahoma City did a great job in their four meetings, holding Portland to under 29 percent from deep. Most of the games, three of the four, were played before the All-Star break. So, this is a different Thunder team from then. Oklahoma City needs to do the same kind of 3-point defense we saw in the regular season. That’ll be even more paramount as the series progresses. If Oklahoma City can jump up and take a series advantage, you may see Portland just start chucking threes, in hopes of getting back into the series.

Billy Donovan’s rotations

Donovan’s rotations throughout the regular season are very fluid. He’s always trying to work and find what is the best for the team, or as we would hope so. The Thunder need some consistency and that starts with the rotations. Will Donovan find his set of guys? He did run the starters a few extra minutes down the stretch. This could be a playoff primer? That remains to be seen. Oklahoma City’s rotations have to be solid.

Who steps up?

Sure, Westbrook and George are going to ball out. Who else is going to step up? You’re going to need a third or even fourth guy step up in this series. Is that Terrance Ferguson? Maybe it’s Dennis Schröder or even Markieff Morris. It’s unsure. My bet is on Schröder stepping up but the Thunder need someone to be that wildcard that forces Portland to move some of their defenders around, freeing up some more for George and Westbrook.

Westbrook’s emotions

We talked about it in our three things to watch, but it’s real. Westbrook’s distaste for Damian Lillard and the Trail Blazers has not gone unnoticed. He’s called Jusuf Nurkic a clown. He barked continuously at Lillard to the point Lillard said he doesn’t even acknowledge Westbrook on the floor. This series is bigger than Westbrook. He has to keep his emotional IQ up. He cannot let the Blazer get him riled up to the point where he’s trying to prove he’s the best player on the court.

Playoff P

George, we’ll be honest, struggled against Utah last season. It’s been a point of contention for the Defensive Player of the Year candidate. George’s woeful percentages against Utah have to be looming as he’s said it’s one of the reasons he returned to Oklahoma City. He said he had unfinished business. Oklahoma City likes that attitude but which George will we see? The one that was pushing for MVP and nuclearing teams? Or will it be the George who’s struggled shooting threes, only 33.6 percent. If “Playoff P” comes in, the Thunder could roll this series.

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