Blazers face Thunder, want better starts to match hot finishes

Chris Paul isn’t sure what’s been going on with the Oklahoma City Thunder early in games.

«It seems like right now we’re two totally different teams in the first half and second half,» Paul told reporters after Friday’s home loss to Miami. «I’ve got to look at (why), but we’ve got to figure it out because it kind of sucks right now.»

Heading into Saturday’s home game against the Portland Trail Blazers, the Thunder have lost three of their last four. In those three losses, Oklahoma City has trailed by an average of nearly 19 points at halftime. The Thunder has outscored those teams by an average of nearly nine points in the second half of those games.

«We’ve shown great resolve to be able to fight back to get back in games, but it’s a hard place to play from,» Thunder coach Billy Donovan told reporters recently. «At one point, it was a great thing coming back and finding ways to win, and we know we have that, but against certain teams it becomes very, very difficult to come back and win.»

Portland is trying to get back on the winning side of things after its modest two-game winning streak was snapped in Friday’s loss at Dallas.

The Blazers are 2-4 on the second night of a back-to-back, but it could’ve been worse without the production from point guard Damian Lillard.

Lillard is averaging 30 points per game in the five games he’s played on the second night of a back-to-back this season, including a 60-point explosion against the Brooklyn Nets on Nov. 8.

CJ McCollum has also performed well in such situations this season, but his status for Saturday is up in the air after he suffered a sprained left ankle in the second quarter Friday night.

«The second day is always the worst,» McCollum said after the game.

Saturday’s game will be just the second game back in Oklahoma City for Blazers forward Carmelo Anthony since he was traded by the Thunder after the 2018 playoffs.

Last season, on Nov. 8, 2018, Anthony came off the bench to score just two points on 1-of-11 shooting for the Rockets against the Thunder.

It wound up being his last game in Houston and his last game of the season. The next day, Houston announced Anthony was out with an illness. A few days later, the Rockets announced that Anthony’s stay with the team was over after just 10 games.

The game is the last of four meetings between the teams.

Portland won the first two meetings, including 102-99 on Oct. 30 in Oklahoma City. The Thunder won the most recent meeting 108-96 on Dec. 8 in Portland.

The Blazers got Mario Hezonja back Friday night after the forward missed the last two games with a lower back contusion. Hezonja, though, has not played both ends of a back-to-back since mid-November.

Oklahoma City could be without center Steven Adams, who missed Friday’s game with a right knee contusion he suffered in Wednesday’s game.

–Field Level Media