The Portland Trail Blazers limped to the tail end of a seven-game road trip in Sunday night's contest against the Oklahoma City Thunder, but in reality, everything went according to plan ... for both teams. Raymond Felton led the tank-tastic attack for Portland with 19 points on 6-of-10 shooting and seven assists, while Russell Westbrook scored a game-high 28 points and Kevin Durant added 26 more to keep the Thunder lead safe throughout their 111-95 win.
All analysis regarding the Trail Blazers from this point forward should be filtered through the prism of a rebuild initiated on March 15, when Portland fired head coach Nate McMillan, traded away Gerald Wallace for a first round pick from the New Jersey Nets and disposed of Marcus Camby in a separate deal. It's very easy to forget that back on Feb. 6 at the Rose Garden, the Blazers gave the Oklahoma City Thunder all they could handle in an overtime thriller that still registers among the best games of the 2011-12 NBA season. That earlier matchup hinged on a last-second goaltending call against LaMarcus Aldridge during a drive by Kevin Durant to send the game to overtime. In the rematch, the Blazers couldn't even keep it close for a full quarter.
In all honesty, Portland didn't really want to keep it close this time around. The players on the court for the Blazers did, but management stripped the team of any hope to consistently compete with the likes of OKC in the short term. Losing increases the odds of netting a premium pick in the loaded 2012 NBA Draft, so the incentives have changed. Losses can help the core of LaMarcus Aldridge and Nicolas Batum get a fresh start with new talent and different leadership next season. In other words, the 111-95 win for the Thunder worked out well for everyone.
OKC opened up a 31-15 advantage in the first 12 minutes, as Thabo Sefolosha (eight points) and Durant (eight points) outscored everyone on Portland -- who shot a combined 6-of-23 (26.1 percent). Only Raymond Felton stopped things from getting worse throughout the night. The embattled point guard put in five points and two assists during that time, and made his mark throughout the game by mixing up his offensive looks on his way to 19 points and seven assists. Jamaal Crawford scored more points (23), but he needed 22 shots to get it done.
The Thunder dictated pace and overwhelmed the Blazers with superior talent at every turn. Kevin Durant played an outside game -- he shot 4-of-5 from beyond the arc and 5-of-12 inside of it -- while Westbrook did damage from inside the arc and finished with 28 points on 12-of-21 shooting, five assists and zero turnovers. Portland never led in 48 minutes. OKC pushed their advantage as high as 21 in part because Nicolas Batum only scored six points in nearly 40 minutes on the court, but Felton and Crawford kept it semi-close with help from Wesley Matthews (16 points, 3-of-3 on threes, four steals) and Joel Przybilla (six points, 11 rebounds, two blocks). Even so, Rip City cut the Thunder lead after halftime to under 10+ points for just over a minute, and Oklahoma City generally cruised to a comfortable victory.
With the win, OKC improved to 34-11 overall and 19-4 at home. It owns the NBA's longest home-winning streak of the season -- 14 games -- as well. The Blazers fell to 21-24, and they currently hold the No. 11 spot in the 2012 NBA Draft Lottery.
For more on this game Thunder fans should check out Welcome To Loud City and Blazers fans should visit Blazer's Edge. For more news and notes from around the NBA head over to SB Nation's NBA Basketball page.