With the regular season winding down, and long out of the Western Conference playoff race, the Portland Trail Blazers and Oklahoma City Thunder are mainly focusing on the future.
That includes the upcoming NBA draft lottery and player development.
Heading into Tuesday’s matchup between the Trail Blazers (27-51) and the host Thunder (23-55), neither team has experienced much on-court success lately as a whole, but there are bright spots on both sides.
For the Thunder, the most recent positive was Aleksej Pokusevski’s triple-double — the first of his career — in a win over Phoenix on Sunday.
His 17-point, 10-rebound, 12-assist performance made the 20-year-old Pokusevski the 12th-youngest player in NBA history to record a triple-double.
Earlier this season, Oklahoma City’s Josh Giddey (19 years, 2 months, 23 days) became the youngest player in league history to accomplish the feat.
After starting 28 games a season ago as a rookie, Pokusevski saw his playing time decrease early in the season, and he eventually spent time in the G League to work on refining his game.
But as the Thunder’s roster suffered through injuries, including one that ended Giddey’s season in late February, Pokusevski’s role has grown of late.
And the 7-footer who has spent time at point guard and defending along the perimeter is finally showing progress after early season struggles.
“I mean, he’s one of a kind,” Thunder center Olivier Sarr said. “He’s as tall as me, and can really see over the defense, find the open guy, great IQ, really unselfish, pushing on the break. That’s all we need. He’s an unbelievable talent.”
For the Trail Blazers, that development recently has come from the maturation of rookie forward Greg Brown III.
Brown has made 9 of 13 attempts from 3-point range over his last three games, including 4 of 5 in Sunday’s 113-92 loss to the San Antonio Spurs.
“He works on it for sure,” Portland coach Chauncey Billups said. “He’s obviously shooting really well over this stretch. He has the potential to be a good shooter in this league. A lot of times when he is missing, it’s the fundamentals. Just him being so young and being off balance a lot of times. … So it’s just repetition.”
The Thunder have won all three meetings between the teams this season. The last time they met, March 28 in Portland, Oklahoma City won 134-131 in overtime.
Pokusevski nearly reached a triple-double in that game with 11 points, 11 assists and eight rebounds.
Tuesday’s game will mark the final home game of the season for the Thunder before the team finishes the campaign with a three-game trip.
Oklahoma City has won three of its last six games, hurting its chances to finish in the bottom three of the league standings to earn the best odds at the No. 1 overall pick in the draft lottery.
The Thunder will enter Tuesday’s game one-half game ahead of Detroit in the league standings and 3 1/2 ahead of Houston and Orlando.
Portland has lost seven games in a row.
–Field Level Media