Time: 7:00 PM CT
Radio: WWLS (98.1 FM OKC / 97.1 FM Tulsa)
The Houston Rockets (49-13) enter Oklahoma City on a 15-game winning streak and a half-game up on Golden State for first place in the Western Conference. The Thunder (37-28) has had different fortune lately, sitting in seventh place and just a game ahead of the eighth-placed Denver Nuggets. With only 17 dates left on the Thunder’s regular season schedule, to say every contest matters would be a colossal understatement.
Led by MVP-candidate James Harden, the Rockets have been on an absolute tear lately, having not dropped a game since January 26. Houston has a 32-1 record when Harden, Chris Paul, and Clint Capela are all in the lineup — as will be the case tonight. The Rockets will be without Ryan Anderson, Joe Johnson and Brandan Wright, so, there’s that. Still, slowing down an offense that scores 114 points per game will be no easy task for a floundering Thunder defense.
Tip-off is at 7:00 PM CT and will be televised on TNT. Houston is a 5.5-point favorite according to Bovada.
- Andre Roberson: Out – Knee
- Ryan Anderson: Out — Hip
- Joe Johnson: Out — Illness
- Brandan Wright: Out — Knee
Rockets: Chris Paul, James Harden, PJ Tucker, Trevor Ariza, Clint Capela
|Team||EFG%||FTA Rate||TOV%||OREB%||OPP EFG%||OPP FTA||OPP TOV%||OPP OREB%|
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Thunder O & D
Rockets O & D
Dec. 25: OKC 112, HOU 107 [BOX SCORE]
Beard Fear. James Harden enters as the favorite for MVP and leads the Rockets with 31.2 points, 5.2 rebounds, and 8.9 assists per game. He put up a 29-14-8 stat line against OKC on Christmas Day but shot just 3-of-11 from downtown and had his life made more difficult by Andre Roberson (who was a +14, by the way). Facing a Thunder defense that will ask a combination of Josh Huestis and Corey Brewer to slow him down, Harden will probably get a lot of whatever he wants tonight at Chesapeake Energy Arena. That will include many trips to the free throw line after fouls we’ll all respectfully disagree with.
Defending the Three. It should go without saying but the Thunder is in deep trouble if Houston gets rolling from downtown. The Rockets make 15.5 three-pointers per game, far and away the most in the NBA. Chris Paul hits 38 percent of 6.5 attempts per game, Trevor Ariza hits 38.7 percent of his seven attempts, Gerald Green makes 38.3 percent of his seven attempts, Eric Gordon shoots 34 percent on nine attempts, and Harden makes 38 percent of his TEN attempts. Expect Houston to shoot an alarming amount of long balls against an OKC defense that gives up 11.1 threes per game to opponents (tied for seventh-most). You’ll find yourself missing Roberson a little more in this one.
Core Four. The Thunder will need big performances out of Russell Westbrook, Paul George, Steven Adams and Carmelo Anthony if it expects to snap the Rockets’ winning streak. The four combined for 90 points against the Houston on Christmas Day, making 52 percent of their field goal attempts. Melo was particularly effective, scoring 20 points on 8/12 shooting. He’s averaging just 13.8 PPG on 35.5 percent shooting (34.5 percent from three) in his last 10 games. OKC will need all the offense in this one, so he’ll simply have to be better after sitting out Sunday’s game in Portland for rest purposes.
Showdown on the O-Glass. The Thunder leads the NBA in offensive rebounding, grabbing 12.7 per contest. This translates into 15 second-chance points per game, which also leads the league. However, Houston allows just 8.2 offensive rebounds to opponents — second-fewest in the NBA. Steven Adams and his ability to be disruptive/create more opportunities on the offensive glass will be something to watch here. He corralled seven offensive boards against the Rockets on December 25.
The Benches. Houston’s bench has a +7.6 net rating on the season, good for third-best in the NBA. On the other hand, Oklahoma City’s reserves carry a -1.2 net rating — 14th in the league. Ryan Anderson, Joe Johnson, and Brandan Wright are all inactive, which helps, but this is still a deep Rockets team. The Thunder reserves will need to play the Rockets’ bench to as close to a stalemate as possible and hope the starters can do the rest. (OKC’s bench was a +6 in the Christmas Day win.)
Brewer Time. Josh Huestis presumably remains in the starting lineup for now, but it sort of feels like Corey Brewer will replace him sooner or later. Brewer logged 12 minutes just hours after signing on Sunday, finishing at -14 in the loss to Portland. When asked about Brewer entering the starting five, Billy Donovan said, “I know there’s not a lot of games left, not a lot of time left to figure that out, but there may be some trial and error where you look at some things that may be good and you stick with it.” Take that as you will. (FYI — Huestis was a -11 in 18 minutes in the Thunder’s Christmas win over Houston. Brewer might have to play big minutes.)