The comparisons between the Thunder and the Blazers are never-ending. In today’s editions of The Oklahoman, Mike Baldwin, quoting ESPN’s Ric Bucher, became the latest to dissect the similarities between the two. It’s a natural link considering the young talent both teams possess.
But Jeff Green stopped short of saying the Thunder aspires to be the Blazers, who enter tonight’s game at the Ford Center sixth in the Western Conference standings at 47-27.
“We’re trying to be better than that,” Green said. ”People compare us because we’re young. That’s it. That’s the bottom line. We have a totally different group of guys. We’re just trying to be the best we can be. Obviously we want to be better than every team in the league but it’s going to take some time. But the more and more we work at it I think the better and better we’re getting.”
The Thunder hasn’t copied the Blazers’ blueprint, but Oklahoma City has built a promising future similar to the way Portland has constructed its revival and now sits on the cusp of the postseason for the first time since 2003.
“I think if you talk to both GMs, they probably have the same plan to build through the draft,” said Nick Collison. “We’re off to a good start. But the next step isn’t just going to happen. We have to be able to do it. We have to be able to make that step as a team.”
LIVINGSTON WILL BE ACTIVE TONIGHT
Shaun Livingston will join the 12-man active roster tonight and be in uniform but isn’t likely to see any court time.
“I can’t predict if he’s going to play or not,” said coach Scott Brooks. “I hope that we’re going to get him some minutes (at some point). We’ll see…I can see him playing, but I just want him to be comfortable with us and us to be comfortable with him.”
After signing with the team Tuesday, Livingston went through individual workouts Wednesday, participated in his first full practice Thursday and a shoot-around session Friday morning. The early impressions from his new teammates was that he’s still got a lot of talent.
“I think he’s slowly getting it back,” Green said. “The injury that occurred with him, it’s tough to come back right away and be in a good rhythm right out of the gate. I know it’s going to take a couple of years for him to fully get to where he left off when he was with the Clippers before the injury happened…But we’re a patient group of guys, and we know with his work ethic he’ll be back to normal soon.”
Said Collison: “He can play. The injuries he went through are pretty unbelievable, almost unprecedented I think. To see him back where he is, he’s doing really well. It’s going to probably take him some time…But it’s an opportunity. He’s a guy that everyone knew could play. But we’re making an investment in him and hoping that he can get back to where he was. And if he does it’ll be a great pickup for us. Time will tell. It’ll be a tough injury to come back from but it seems like he’s doing great.”
WHY WEAVER GOT SENT DOWN
Brooks explained Weaver’s assignment to the Tulsa 66ers Friday by saying it’s simply an opportunity for the rookie guard to get more playing time. Weaver was averaging 19.6 minutes over his past five games with the Thunder. He figures to be getting twice that in Tulsa while also having an opportunity to have the ball in his hands more, play some minutes at point guard and have more freedom to develop his game.
“He’s going to be able to play there two games and only miss one game here,” said Brooks, indicating Weaver is likely to be recalled prior to Sunday’s game against Indiana. ”I like what he has done for us, and he will continue to improve because he is a great worker. But he’s getting minutes down there and it helps when you get minutes. I know he was getting 16, 17 minutes up here, but he’s getting 40 minutes down there. I thought he did a good job. He was filling up the stat sheet. They didn’t win the game, but I thought his numbers and his play was pretty good. So he’s just getting an opportunity to play extra minutes.”
SO WHO GETS WEAVER’S MINUTES TONIGHT?
Brooks was non-committal when asked Friday who would slide in at the shooting guard position tonight for the 16-20 minutes Weaver normally receives. Brooks said he could play Kevin Durant extra minutes at shooting guard, give Jeff Green more minutes or go big or small.
“I don’t know who exactly will take those minutes,” Brooks said. ”Guys just have to be ready if they get the opportunity. There’s minutes to be had right there. We can go big or small. That’s just going to be a game-time decision depending on what they do.”
SEFOLOSHA STICKING ROY
Thabo Sefolosha will get the start on Blazers leading scorer Brandon Roy, who has torched the Thunder this season with averages of 27 points, 7.5 rebounds and 5.5 assists in two games.
“He’s had his way against us. He’s a great player,” Brooks said. “We want Thabo to make sure that his touches are very difficult. But he’s going to have to have four guys on his backside helping out. One thing about Roy that makes him so difficult to guard is he’s a great shooter and he’s a great ball-handler. He gets to the rack. He can score around the basket over big guys, and he’s a great free throw shooter so you can’t foul him.
“Our challenge is to try to limit his catches and make him get away from his sweet spot. He’s a mid-range guy that can shoot 3s. So Thabo has to really be physical with him and challenge his ball-handling skills and have help on the weak side.”
COLLISON GEARING UP FOR ODEN
Keep an eye on the match up between reserves Collison and Greg Oden tonight. In the Thunder’s first meeting with the Blazers on Feb. 6, Collison won the battle. He scored 21 points with 13 rebounds while holding the 2007 No. 1 overall pick to four points and two rebounds in a 102-93 win inside the Ford Center. Oden made amends for that performance, however, by scoring 16 points with 10 rebounds and three blocked shots in a 106-92 win inside the Rose Garden on Feb. 11. It was Collison who was held to four points and two rebounds in the second meeting.
“Oden’s a load when he gets the ball deep,” Collison said. “I had a real tough time with him in Portland. So I’m going to try to do a better job of not letting him catch it so low…With him he’s just so big. If he’s catching the ball in the paint he’s tough to stop. If you can make him catch it off the block he has a much more difficult time so that’s what we’ll try to do.”
GREEN MATCHING UP WITH LaMARCUS
Drawing the assignment of containing the athletic and versatile LaMarcus Aldridge will be Green, who gives up about two inches but can make up for it with his strength, length and quickness.
“It’s going to be tough,” Green said. ”He’s been playing very well, averaging about 25 points the last couple of games. He runs the floor very well for a big man. He’s probably the best in the league at doing that. He rebounds. He’s a weak side shot blocker. So it’s going to be tough. I’ve got to keep him off the boards. I can’t let him get easy looks. So it’s going to be a good match up. It’s going to be fun.”
SUSTAINING THE SAN ANTONIO EFFORT
If the Thunder is to be successful tonight, the team must play with the intensity that it played with in San Antonio on Tuesday night. Duplicating that effort, however, is always easier said than done.
“Hopefully it’s just a habit,” said Collison. “The point we want to get to is that’s just our habit, that’s how we always play and that’s the effort we always have. We’ve had it a lot lately. Hopefully that’s just who we are right now.”
The Thunder is expected to wear special T-shirts on the bench tonight in honor of the NBA’s Green Week.