Monday, March 27, 2023
Sports Gaming Monitor

NBA Preview: Oklahoma City Thunder (26-28) at Portland Trail Blazers (27-28)

Both the Portland Trail Blazers and Oklahoma City Thunder underwent significant changes at the NBA trade deadline.

The new-look versions of both will at least start to be apparent Friday when the Blazers and Thunder meet in Portland.

Despite being separated by just a half-game in the Western Conference standings entering Thursday’s play, the teams took drastically different approaches at the deadline.

The Blazers looked to upgrade themselves, especially on the defensive end, and did that with the addition of Matisse Thybulle in a three-way deal with the 76ers.

Thybulle, a two-time second-team NBA All-Defensive Team member, gives Portland a rangy wing to pair with Damian Lillard while not encroaching much on Lillard’s offensive contributions.

The Blazers are in the bottom five in the NBA in defensive rating.

Portland also traded away Josh Hart in a separate deal, acquiring Cam Reddish from the New York Knicks, and sent Gary Payton II to the Los Angeles Lakers.

The Blazers come into Friday’s game, the third in a five-game homestand, having won six of their last nine.

Portland is coming off a 125-122 victory over Golden State on Wednesday in which Lillard had his second career triple-double, finishing with 33 points, 11 assists and 10 rebounds.

Even though they are in the thick of the race for a play-in spot in the Western Conference, the Thunder remain in rebuild mode.

The Thunder traded away two of the four players remaining from their last playoff team, in 2019-20, shipping off veteran center Mike Muscala (Boston Celtics) and fourth-year forward Darius Bazley (Phoenix Suns) in separate deals.

Only Shai Gilgeous-Alexander and Luguentz Dort remain from the playoff squad. The Thunder have the youngest roster in the NBA.

Oklahoma City is coming off a 133-130 win over the Lakers in a game that will be long remembered for LeBron James becoming the NBA’s all-time leading scorer.

He did it with a shot over Kenrich Williams, but Williams is taking the attention in stride.

While Williams isn’t at the center of the Thunder’s rebuild, he’s been a valuable piece.

Dort, Oklahoma City’s top defender, has missed the last six games with a right hamstring strain which figures to keep him out of Friday’s game as well.

Aleksej Pokusevski, who hasn’t played since late December with a left leg fracture, has been with the Thunder on its three-game road trip, which wraps up Friday, and is closing in on a return.

Friday’s game is the third of four meetings between the teams this season. Oklahoma City has won the first two.

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