The Oklahoma City Thunder was playing below their expectations before turning things around en route to their current three game winning streak. Their declining production directly related to Russell Westbrook‘s injury. The Thunder looked better as each game passed, even in losses. Eventually, they got to the point where they minimized the damage and started to win games.
Kevin Durant led the Thunder’s rectification with domination scoring performances, including two 48-point outings and one spectacular 54-point outburst against the Golden State Warriors. KD’s play was important, but the upsurge by Serge Ibaka and Reggie Jackson also played a detrimental role in the team’s success.
Tonight, OKC is at home against the Portland Trail Blazers. Both teams are coming into this matchup at 31-10 on the season, but the Blazers hold two head-to-head wins over the Thunder. If the Blazers win, they will remain as the second seed in the Western Conference. If OKC wins, they will slide into that spot and the Blazers will slip to third overall. Playoff spots are not that important at this point of the season, but both teams badly want a win.
The Thunder will have their hands full without Westbrook on the floor. The role players will have to be big tonight if they want win their fourth straight game. The most important player on the floor tonight for OKC will be Ibaka, who has been superb as of late. He has put up three straight 20-point games for the first time all season. With such good numbers on the offensive end, Ibaka’s defense will be what matters most. He is stuck with the task of checking LaMarcus Aldridge, who is having an MVP worthy season.
If Serge can score around 15 points and grab eight rebounds while doing a respectable job guarding Aldridge, OKC will be in position to pull out a victory over Portland. The other factors, like Durant, Jackson and Lamb’s production, will be there for OKC to fall back on. The Thunder’s fate lies in the hands of Durant, but Ibaka needs to be the man tonight. As a power forward, this matchup is the toughest for him because Aldridge can spread the floor and overpower him when he chooses. If Serge can minimize the damage while helping his team secure a victory, then his confidence will take shoot through the roof.