After a challenging six-game road trip in which they went 2-4, the Portland Trail Blazers are back at Moda Center on Wednesday for a date with the Oklahoma City Thunder.
The Blazers, fresh off a win over the Bulls on Monday that included a 25-point performance from Carmelo Anthony, have their sights set on a victory over a division foe.
Damian Lillard continues to lead the way for Portland in the scoring and passing departments, averaging 27.3 points and 7.5 assists per game. Anthony’s turn-back-the-clock performance on Monday was his best in his four games with Portland so far, and Wednesday night will be a rematch with his former team in the Thunder.
It will also be Anthony’s first home game with the Blazers as he works his way into the fold with his new team.
“We don’t know how I’m going to adjust my game,” Anthony told Shams Charania of The Athletic after Monday’s blowout win. “I’ve had (four) games with these guys. We haven’t had no practices yet, no time to adjust, just straight on-court basketball and going off of talent and skill. I’m just walking in the gym and thrown into the fire.
“Until we have time to practice, get in the gym and get together and get back in Portland, nothing is going to be determined for us.”
The Thunder come into Portland on the second of a two-game road trip — the first a narrow victory over the Golden State Warriors on Monday at Chase Center. Shai Gilgeous-Alexander leads this young Oklahoma City team with 19.3 points per game, with veteran point guard Chris Paul providing much of the on-court leadership.
Gilgeous-Alexander’s defense has been nearly as productive as his offense in the early portion of the season. Paul has taken notice.
“We’ve been talking about Shai being competitive on the defensive end, and he’s got it,” Paul told reporters on Monday. “His length, his knack for knowing the game. It was good to see him not only get that block (of Golden State’s Jordan Poole’s 3-point attempt with 1.6 seconds remaining), but to make those free throws (preceding the game-clinching block). He’s his own man. He’s experiencing things, and I’m gonna let him do that.”
Oklahoma City lost three games in a row — one to the Clippers and two to the Lakers – prior to its three-point win over Golden State. Injuries to Andre Roberson (knee) and Hamidou Diallo (elbow) will keep them out for Wednesday night against Portland, and the Blazers will still be without Jusuf Nurkic (leg) and Zach Collins (shoulder) in the frontcourt for the foreseeable future.
Blazers guard Gary Trent (hamstring) was ruled out of Monday’s contest and his status against the Thunder has yet to be announced.
The biggest story for the Blazers — and one that has captured the attention of the NBA at large — is the play of Anthony in the early part of his stint in Portland. Anthony’s signature confidence hasn’t wavered, and despite not playing in the NBA for more than a year he feels he has multiple years left to give.
“This ain’t a damn farewell tour,” Anthony told Charania. “My love for the game don’t stop. I don’t know where this ‘farewell tour’ thing came from. I’ve never talked about a farewell tour. I know what I can do and I believe in myself. When a farewell tour comes, it comes. That’s not something I think about.
“I’m not thinking about retiring right now. I had (thought about it) during this past stretch over the summer. But ain’t no retiring in my mind. I believe in what I have left.”
–Field Level Media