Back home, Blazers face Thunder in key West battle
As important regular-season matchups go, Oklahoma City's visit to Portland to play the Trail Blazers on Thursday night is near the top of the list.
Both teams are 39-25 and tied for third place with Houston in the NBA's Western Conference standings. Having won the first three games of the matchup, the Thunder travel to Portland looking for a sweep of the season series.
"Both teams know it's a big game," Portland coach Terry Stotts said. "As far as playoff seeding, they already have the tie-breaker. But it should be a good game."
The game will feature one of the league's best individual matchups at point guard, where Portland's Damian Lillard will go against Oklahoma City's Russell Westbrook. But Lillard said it's not a one-on-one contest, and that the Trail Blazers -- who won five of seven games on their recent road trip -- must "continue to do what we've been doing."
"We've been sharing the ball really well, executing on offense and competing on defense,," Lillard said. "We have to have the same mentality going into that game, and we'll be fine.
"This is a big one. It would be a good one to get on our home floor, with a chance to take over that third spot. It should be a good game."
The Blazers lost the final stop on their recent trip, blowing a 16-point first-half lead and falling 120-111 to the Memphis Grizzlies on Tuesday night.
"Once we got to the point where it could happen, our plan was go home 6-1 (on the road trip)," Lillard said. "That would have been great for us in that we had a lot of tough games on this trip. That was what we had in mind.
"We can say it was a good trip. A great trip would have been 6-1. But (the loss to Memphis) is tough. We wanted to get this one, we were in position to get it, and we didn't."
Memphis (26-40) has the second-worst record in the Western Conference, but Lillard said nothing can be taken for granted.
"We've been on the road for almost three weeks, traveling city to city, playing tough teams," he said. "We came here to play an NBA team. We didn't play against the Washington Generals. They have good players. I don't think we crashed -- (the Grizzlies) played well, we didn't do enough to win the game."
OKC is coming off a disappointing 131-120 loss at Minnesota on Tuesday in which the Timberwolves shot 52.2 percent from the field and hit 11 of 22 3-point attempts.
"We have to be better defensively," Westbrook said. "Just help side, being physical. ... We have to have a physical presence at each position. For us to win, we have to be able to find that and find a way to get it together."
Small forward Paul George was back in action after missing the previous three games with a shoulder injury. He scored 25 points but made only 8 of 25 shots from the field.
"The rhythm was off," George said. "I was a little rusty. I feel fine. As much as I was getting tugged and grabbed, the shoulder held up. I made it through OK."
The Thunder have lost five of six as they enter the second stop on a four-game road trip.
--Field Level Media
Updated March 7, 2019