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Blazers visit Thunder in crucial West contest
OKLAHOMA CITY -- The Portland Trail Blazers kick off a critical four-game road trip Tuesday night against the Oklahoma City Thunder.
For the Thunder, it's a brief return home in the middle of a stretch of five road games in six.
The Thunder and Trail Blazers are part of a tight bunch at the bottom of the Western Conference playoff picture.
Oklahoma City (22-18) is a half-game ahead of Portland (21-18) and Denver with New Orleans 1 1/2 back of that duo.
Both teams figure to be without critical pieces.
Blazers' point guard Damian Lillard has missed six of the last eight games and is listed as out for the game with a right calf strain.
Lillard first was out with a strained right hamstring, returned for a loss at Cleveland on Jan. 2 and suffered the calf injury.
Lillard was a late scratch from Sunday's win over San Antonio after suffering pain in the leg following his pregame warmup.
"We've got a big stretch of games coming up and having a little bit of a situation with my hamstring, it takes time," Lillard said. "And then, aggravating my calf, and having (them) both be on the same side. They told me that it would probably be smarter to take it easy."
With Lillard averaging 24.9 points, 6.3 assists and 4.8 rebounds, his absence is a big one.
But Portland has been able to overcome that to go 4-2 without Lillard during this recent stretch.
Shabazz Napier figures to start in Lillard's place. During his recent five starts, Lillard is averaging 18.2 points, 4.8 rebounds and 5.4 assists.
On the other side, the Thunder are expected to be without defensive stopper Andre Roberson for the fourth consecutive game with left patellar tendinitis. He figures to miss at least two more games before his return.
Oklahoma City's defense has been among the league's best this season, in large part because of Roberson's work on the perimeter and against pick-and-rolls.
"We 100 percent need the guy because of that reason," Thunder center Steven Adams said. "And it's just the small things that just start snowballing. He makes that extra step that'll stop that player and that possession. He'll just cut off that whole play.
"Stuff like that that really kind of pays off and makes everyone else's job easier."
With Roberson on the floor, the Thunder have averaged 12 fewer points per 100 possessions than when he's not playing.
Like the Blazers, Oklahoma City has handled the loss well, going 2-1 on the recent road trip without Roberson.
They won those games with their improving offense, though, averaging 130 points per game in those two wins. Since Dec. 15, the Thunder have the league's best offensive rating, scoring 115.7 points per 100 possessions.
Portland is one of only four Western Conference teams with a winning record on the road at 11-8. The Thunder are 14-6 at home, having dropped their past two games at Chesapeake Energy Arena.
Updated January 8, 2018