Both the Portland Trail Blazers and Oklahoma City Thunder underwent significant changes at the NBA trade deadline.
The new-look versions of both will at least start to be apparent Friday when the Blazers and Thunder meet in Portland.
Despite being separated by just a half-game in the Western Conference standings entering Thursday’s play, the teams took drastically different approaches at the deadline.
The Blazers looked to upgrade themselves, especially on the defensive end, and did that with the addition of Matisse Thybulle in a three-way deal with the 76ers.
Thybulle, a two-time second-team NBA All-Defensive Team member, gives Portland a rangy wing to pair with Damian Lillard while not encroaching much on Lillard’s offensive contributions.
“I think we all feel very responsible to do the best by Dame and put the right pieces around him to have a chance to win it,” Blazers coach Chauncey Billips said leading into the deadline.
The Blazers are in the bottom five in the NBA in defensive rating.
Portland also traded away Josh Hart in a separate deal, acquiring Cam Reddish from the New York Knicks, and sent Gary Payton II to the Los Angeles Lakers.
“I think it’s a game of chess,” Lillard said of the approach to the deadline. “You gotta do what you gotta do, and trust the process that repositioning ourselves will be beneficial.”
The Blazers come into Friday’s game, the third in a five-game homestand, having won six of their last nine.
Portland is coming off a 125-122 victory over Golden State on Wednesday in which Lillard had his second career triple-double, finishing with 33 points, 11 assists and 10 rebounds.
Even though they are in the thick of the race for a play-in spot in the Western Conference, the Thunder remain in rebuild mode.
The Thunder traded away two of the four players remaining from their last playoff team, in 2019-20, shipping off veteran center Mike Muscala (Boston Celtics) and fourth-year forward Darius Bazley (Phoenix Suns) in separate deals.
Only Shai Gilgeous-Alexander and Luguentz Dort remain from the playoff squad. The Thunder have the youngest roster in the NBA.
Oklahoma City is coming off a 133-130 win over the Lakers in a game that will be long remembered for LeBron James becoming the NBA’s all-time leading scorer.
He did it with a shot over Kenrich Williams, but Williams is taking the attention in stride.
“I told my wife, you can take it two ways,” Williams said. “You hold him under what he needed to score, or you can be a part of history.
“I’m always looking at the positives. I’m a part of history.”
While Williams isn’t at the center of the Thunder’s rebuild, he’s been a valuable piece.
“His vulnerability as a competitor is one of his best qualities,” Thunder coach Mark Daigneault said. “He doesn’t back away from a challenge and he doesn’t feel failure. I think it’s fitting that his nose is in the fight on that play.”
Dort, Oklahoma City’s top defender, has missed the last six games with a right hamstring strain which figures to keep him out of Friday’s game as well.
Aleksej Pokusevski, who hasn’t played since late December with a left leg fracture, has been with the Thunder on its three-game road trip, which wraps up Friday, and is closing in on a return.
Friday’s game is the third of four meetings between the teams this season. Oklahoma City has won the first two.
–Field Level Media