March 14, 2016: Portland Trail Blazers Guard Damian Lillard (0) looks for a pass while Oklahoma City Thunder Guard Russell Westbrook (0) plays defense at the Chesapeake Energy Arena (Photo by Torrey Purvey/Icon Sportswire) (Photo by Torrey Purvey/Icon Sportswire/Corbis via Getty Images)

With the 2018-19 season coming to an exciting end, there are now 16 teams remaining battling for the elusive Larry O’Brien trophy. Two of those teams are the 3rd seeded Portland Trail Blazers taking on the 6th seeded Oklahoma City Thunder. Those two teams have been constantly competitive in a tough Western Conference. However, they have been without much playoff success to show for it.

Can the Trail Blazers Hold On?

The Blazers had a surprising ending to their last playoff appearance in 2018. Anthony Davis and the New Orleans Pelicans swept them; raising many doubts about the roster. Despite many trade speculations in the offseason, Portland’s roster remained fairly consistent in an effort to build and grow as a team.

Portland has lost Jusuf Nurkic for the season to a gruesome injury on Monday, March 25th. CJ McCollum is expected to start in the playoffs after recovering from an ugly knee sprain that could have sidelined him for longer than expected. This seems like déjà vu all over again as Damian Lillard has to do the heavy lifting to give the Blazers a chance at winning some games and maybe the series.

The playoffs are all about opponents game planning for each other, which means the Thunder will plan to shut down Lillard. This naturally stagnates the Blazers’ offense. The key would be for the Portland role players to respond appropriately. Zach Collins, Evan Turner, and Seth Curry have to provide some firepower in order to give Portland a fighting chance.

Control the Thunder

Oklahoma City swept the season series with Portland, providing confidence in a victory even though they are the lower seed. The Thunder, being the superior defensive team, ranks fourth in defensive rating. The Blazers are 16th in the same category. On the other hand, Portland ranks third in offensive rating this season as opposed to the Thunder’s 16th ranking. Based on those statistics, one could predict this will be an incredibly competitive series, however, the Blazers lost their primary big man, while the Thunder have a red hot Paul George.

Oklahoma City has been playing much better team basketball this season with Russell Westbrook leading the charge while ceding his main scoring duties to George. This has worked out well so far. In addition, Steven Adams is a force to be reckoned with down low. That will be difficult for either Enes Kanter or Collins to contain. This Thunder team seems to have a more diversified portfolio for offensive firepower while having a superior defense.

Series Prediction

If Portland had a healthy Nurkic and a fully recovered McCollum, then this series may be significantly harder to predict. That is no knock against the Blazers’ roster, however, this Thunder team possesses more star power, which is the main ingredient for success in the playoffs. The other main ingredient? Defense. Oklahoma City has that too.

This will be an entertaining and competitive series all along. The role players usually perform better at home, which means that Portland is capable of winning one or two games. But in the end, the Thunder should be able to close it out in six games.

Fun Fact: If they advance, this would mark the first time Oklahoma City advances past the first round since Kevin Durant’s departure.

Main Photo:

March 14, 2016: Portland Trail Blazers Guard Damian Lillard (0) looks for a pass while Oklahoma City Thunder Guard Russell Westbrook (0) plays defense at the Chesapeake Energy Arena (Photo by Torrey Purvey/Icon Sportswire) (Photo by Torrey Purvey/Icon Sportswire/Corbis via Getty Images)


View the original article on Last Word On Pro Basketball: Portland Trail Blazers vs. Oklahoma City Thunder Series Preview