Thunder Provide Trail Blazers the Blueprint, but it May Not Happen Quickly
A blowout loss to Oklahoma City showed how far the Blazers are from the Thunder's fast-tracked rebuild.
PORTLAND, Ore. — It wasn't long ago that the Thunder were where the Trail Blazers are right now.
In fact, it was so recent that watching what Oklahoma City, on the second night of a back-to-back after going to overtime at Golden State, did to Portland on Sunday might give people unrealistic expectations of how quickly the Blazers can get to that place.
The Thunder on Sunday didn't look like an emerging contender fighting for respect. They looked like a veteran playoff team that knew how to play their game and was used to handling business against the teams they're "supposed" to beat, which is what the Blazers are to most of the NBA at this beginning stage of their rebuild.
Putting aside the outlier shooting—Oklahoma City shot 60.5 percent from the field and an outrageous 22-of-36 from three-point range—they were clinical and together. Shai Gilgeous-Alexander's 28 points came on 13 shots and only one three-pointer in 22 minutes. Chet Holmgren had 16 points in just 20 minutes. With Jalen Williams out, they plugged rookie Cason Wallace into the starting lineup and didn't miss a beat.
For at least two years, the Thunder have been the League Pass hipster's team of choice, the Draft Twitter darlings you can earn credibility online by saying is your favorite team to watch. But I don't think even their biggest optimists thought they'd be this good, and certainly not this fast. Given the health and chemistry concerns with every other would-be contender in the conference, would it be a complete shock if this group made the Western Conference Finals well ahead of schedule?
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They're the blueprint for how small-market teams that aren't free-agent draws can build a contender. In short, they're what the post-Damian Lillard Blazers are trying to emulate.
"I see some similarities with where we are and how they've built their thing from where they were a couple years ago, when they were really young," Chauncey Billups said before the game. "They've built it right. A couple years ago I said, 'When they grow up a little bit, they're going to be dangerous.'"