Unless you live under a rock you probably know that Kevin Durant is, and has been, on a scoring tear for the better part of this season. However, did you know that even without his point guard Russell Westbrook, he is still a part of the league’s top duo in terms of scoring?!
When the Blazers and Thunder face-off Tuesday night (for NBATV’s Fan Night at 10 p.m. EST) the top two scoring duos will in fact be facing each other. Kevin Durant and Serge Ibaka combine to put up 46.5 points per game (if Russ was a qualified scorer he and Durant would lead at 52.5 points), while Portland’s own star-studded combo of LaMarcus Aldridge and Damian Lillard — both All-Stars this year — put up 44.9 points per night.
By now you should also know that the Blazers are No. 1 in the NBA in terms of scoring at 108 points per game, while they struggle on defense ranking 26th in opponents’ points per game at 103.5 allowed. Oklahoma City is tied for fifth in scoring at 105.1 points per night, however they only give up 97.5 points a night to their opponents; good enough for sixth in the NBA.
Even given all of this information, the Blazers are 2-1 against the Thunder this season. They were 2-0 going into their last matchup where Durant exploded for 46 points to get the Thunder their first win versus Portland this season.
So, how do the duos stack up against each other?
Lillard has averaged 16.3 points, 3.0 rebounds and 7.0 assists in the three games against OKC, but has only shot a measly 36.4 percent in those games as well. Aldridge on the other hand has stepped his game up in the three marquee matchups averaging 30.7 points, 14.3 rebounds and 3.0 assists; all while shooting 50.6 percent from the floor. The combo has combined to average 47.0 points per game against the Thunder — which is up 2.1 points a game from their season average.
For OKC, Ibaka has really struggled in the previous matchups. He’s only managed 13.3 points, 6.3 rebounds, and 3.7 blocks per game while struggling from the field at 42.9 percent (Ibaka shoots 54.8 percent on the season and has been stellar over his last 10 shooting 65.7 percent!). Durant, like Aldridge, steps up in these games and his numbers are just unreal. He averages 38.7 points, 8.7 rebounds and 2.3 assists while shooting lights out at 54.1 percent.
Why talk up this matchup of duos? Frankly, Ibaka has been a major key in the Thunder’s run while Westbrook has been out and his play in the pick-and-roll with Durant has just been masterful. Take this play the other night against the Knicks for example…
Naturally everyone focused in on the dunk, but the PASS! If you weren’t listening to Hubie Brown during the clip, then watch it again, because Hubie is on point praising Durant for that ridiculous pocket pass that leads Ibaka perfectly down the lane for the flush. Granted, the dunk is on J.R. Smith, but Blazers’ fans don’t think for a second that Ibaka couldn’t do that to Lopez if given the opportunity.
Further proof that Ibaka is the key to the Thunder leading the league with 41 wins; over their last 10 games the Thunder are 8-2 and during that span Ibaka has lifted his play. His season averages of 15.3 points and 8.8 rebounds are already career highs, but over this last 10-game span Serge is averaging 19.3 points and 8.0 rebounds a game — and I mentioned it earlier, he’s also shooting a mind-blowing 65.7 percent during that time!
It’s no wonder that the Blazers are 2-1 versus the Thunder this season — Ibaka has struggled in those games and with Westbrook missing (the first win included a healthy Westbrook) there is no margin for error when it comes to Ibaka scoring the basketball.
In the following video Dane Carbaugh (@danecarbaugh) of ayoungsabonis.com breaks down how teams are attacking Damian Lillard off the pick-and-roll, and also how he has been successful in attacking as well.
As you can see there are some clips in here of the Thunder as well and the success Lillard has shown against them. Kendrick Perkins is usually guarding Aldridge and that leads to the 1-5 mismatch that Dane mentions — the Blazers are looking for that mismatch and will exploit it as often as possible Tuesday night.
You might think that the 52nd game of an NBA season has zero effect moving forward for an individual team; and you could be right. However, this game could go a long way as far as momentum is concerned heading into their big matchup against the L.A. Clippers Wednesday night, and then the All-Star break.
The Blazers are 36-15 and currently sit 3rd in the Western Conference. The teams ahead of them are proven commodities in the NBA as both the Thunder and Spurs have made deep runs in the playoffs over the past couple seasons. Both those teams have had to work through injuries this season and are still ahead of the Blazers, who are the only team in the NBA to have sent out the exact same starting lineup every game this season. Sure Nicolas Batum is playing through some injuries, but this team has everything to prove right now and moving forward and this could be a huge stepping stone on the way.
**You can contact Chris regarding this article on Twitter: @Chris_Reichert