The Trail Blazers were rolling through the stretch run having adjusted their style of play to run the offense more often through big man Jusuf Nurkic and make the team less dependent on pick-and-roll basketball, which proved too easy to defend when Portland was swept from the first round last season.
Indeed, the Blazers dropped from third in the NBA in their use of pick-and-roll ball-handler offense (21.6 percent of their possessions) down to 11th (18.9 percent). But all that came crashing down in late March when Nurkic broke his leg, putting him out for the postseason. The Blazers played well after Nurkic’s injury (7-2), but they were playing inferior competition.
On the other side, the Thunder plowed through an easy early schedule and were 38-20 with a win in their first game after the All-Star break. But the schedule caught up with them, and the team underwent a 6-13 stretch before closing with five straight wins to seal the No. 6 spot.
NBA PLAYOFFS 2019: Full schedule | West predictions
Trail Blazers vs. Thunder: Schedule, breakdown, prediction
The key player
Paul George was a legitimate MVP candidate leading up to the All-Star break, but as is his habit, he slumped badly in the second half — his shooting dropped from 45.3 percent to 40.0 percent and this 3-point shooting went from 40.6 percent to 33.6 percent. That’s been a pattern in his career.
But another pattern for George has been strong bounce-back performances in the playoffs. He has averaged 26.5 points, 7.3 rebounds and 4.4 assists in the last three springs. The Thunder have a talent advantage here, but only if George shakes off his late-season struggles.
The big number
19.7. For the Thunder, 19.7 percent of their possessions come in transition, which ranks fourth in the NBA. But watch the Thunder’s shot selection, and you’ll not be surprised to know that OKC scores 1.05 points per possession on the break, 28th in the NBA.
Defensively, Portland ranks sixth in points per possession allowed on the break (1.06), so expect the Blazers to do well disrupting the Thunder’s running game. Oklahoma City must get better shots and convert more in transition to advance past this series.
Trail Blazers vs. Thunder prediction
It was an all-around breakout season for Nurkic, and it’s too bad that he will miss this postseason. It would have been interesting to see whether the Blazers’ new approach could be carried into the playoffs.
But it was not to be. That leaves the door open for the Thunder to advance.
Thunder over Trail Blazers, 4-2
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