New guys look strong, but Blazers overmatched by Thunder

PORTLAND — As the Trail Blazers’ playoff hopes have faded to virtual invisibility, few would argue that they are in anything but rebuilding mode. And Tuesday night, the blueprint for that remodel visited the Rose Garden for 48 minutes.

Much was made about who would replace Raymond Felton in the starting line up, but the truth is, against a team like Oklahoma City, it wasn’t about who started — just that Portland was finished.

The Western Conference’s top team clobbered the Blazers 109-95 while shooting 57 percent from the field. It had 65 points by halftime and saw three players reach double figures.
Kevin Durant didn’t miss a shot until the third quarter and didn’t hit the rim until midway through the second. And has he drained jumper after jumper, his team sent Portland down the drain.

“Thirty-two point first quarter, 33-point second quarter — we didn’t bring our hard hats in the first half to defend,” Blazers coach Kaleb Canales said. “Defensively, we let them get in a rhythm.”

Felton was in South Carolina during Tuesday’s game tending to his mother, who was undergoing heart surgery. His absence meant that Nolan Smith would make his first career NBA start.
The rookie said he felt great when he first stepped on the court given the opportunity presented to him. It’s unlikely, however, that he felt too great afterward.

After knocking down his first shot of the game, Smith missed his remaining eight and finished with just three points. More significantly — at least in the mind of Canales — he failed to contain OKC point guard Russell Westbrook, who led all scorers with 32 points on 16-of-26 shooting.

Felton is expected to be back for Portland’s game Thursday night vs. the Hornets. Regardless, Smith wants another shot at big-time minutes.

“I’m definitely hoping for another chance,” Smith said. “Honestly, it wasn’t the best shooting night. But defensively, I helped my team. I felt pretty good about that.”

But after Tuesday, Felton might not be the only teammate Smith will have to usurp in the Blazers’ lineup. Earning significant playing time for the first time all season, Portland’s newly-acquired point guard Jonny Flynn displayed a moderate resemblance to his once highly-touted self.

Scoring 10 points and handing out five assists in 25 minutes, Flynn gave fans — and himself — a taste of what he is capable of.

“It felt good to be out there. Those were my first meaningful minutes this whole season,” said Flynn, adding that his alley-oop pass to J.J. Hickson in the second quarter was “the ice breaker” for him vs. the Thunder. “Being able to compete…hopefully it’s going to come with time. I still have to shake some of the rust off.”

One Portland player now ostensibly rust-free is Hickson. Two games after dropping 14 points against the Lakers in his Blazers debut, Hickson scored 21 points Tuesday while going 9 of 10 from the field.

After averaging just 4.7 points per game in Sacramento this year, Hickson admits the change of scenery has been beneficial thus far.

“Coming here was kind of a blessing,” he said. “It’s a different organization, different locker room, different players.”
But not so much different results.

Despite the bright spots off the bench, Portland (23-27) was overmatched and overpowered. Durant scored 25 points on 10-of-14 shooting, and James Harden scored 21 while going 6 of 7 from the field and 7 of 7 from the foul line. The Thunder (38-12) are now 8-0 when three players score 20 or more points.

The loss keeps the Blazers in 12th place in the Western Conference and four games behind Denver for the eighth and final playoff spot.

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