Preview 81 of 82: Thunder vs Rockets
Time: 8:30 PM CST
TV: TNT & FSOK
The Oklahoma City Thunder (47-33) are at Chesapeake Energy Arena for the final time this regular season, taking on the Houston Rockets (53-28) in a nationally televised showdown between Western Conference playoff teams. The Rockets enter as the 3-seed in the West — just a half game behind the 2-seed Nuggets. The Thunder are currently in sixth, but are just a half game up on the 7-seed Spurs and 8-seed Clippers.
Tip-off is at 8:30 PM CST and will be televised on TNT and Fox Sports Oklahoma. The Thunder are 2-point home underdogs according to Odds Shark.
- Andre Roberson: Out — Knee
Rockets: Chris Paul, James Harden, Eric Gordon, PJ Tucker, Clint Capela
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OKC leads season series 2-1
What to Watch For
Russ Roll. Russell Westbrook comes into tonight on an absolute tear, leading the Thunder to a 3-game winning streak behind averages of 22 points, 12.7 rebounds, and 17 assists. With the point guard in pass-first mode, the Thunder offense has regained a bit of that January/early February form — scoring 124.7 PPG over the the streak. As always, Westbrook holds the key to keeping that up. If he stays locked in to his recent zone, OKC has a great shot to upset the Rockets.
MVPG. The Thunder are 2-1 against Houston this season, thanks in large part to Paul George taking it to another level in the previous three matchups. George has put up a double-double in each of the games, with his finest effort coming in the last meeting — where he dropped 45 points and 11 rebounds to out-duel Harden’s 42 points en route to a 117-112 victory. He may not be in line for another stellar effort like that one, but no one in a Rockets jersey can stop him if he’s rolling. OKC will likely need all the points if they’re going to win.
Steve/Jerami/Terrance/Dennis. With Westbrook having no trouble distributing the rock, the success of the Thunder’s offense revolves around PG carrying the scoring burden while role players step up and make shots. That’s mostly been Jerami Grant over the last three games — averaging 18.7 PPG on 43% shooting from long range during the winning streak. In any case, the Thunder would benefit greatly by one (or more)(or all) of the regular cast stepping up and handling their business.
Fear the Beard. James Harden comes in averaging an outrageous 36.1 points, 6.6 rebounds, and 7.6 assists per game — putting him square in the MVP discussion alongside Giannis Antetokounmpo. Though he’s put up two 40+ scoring efforts in the three games against OKC this season, he’s shot just 40 percent from the floor and 34 percent from long range. Furthermore, he’s taken about eight free throws per game against the Thunder, down from 11 for the season. Without Andre Roberson available to slow Harden down, he’ll likely get his numbers tonight. OKC can win the game if they stop…
Everybody Else. Clint Capela is next up with an average of 16.6 points, and 12.7 rebounds per game — putting up 16 & 23 in Houston’s only win against OKC this season. He’s followed by Eric Gordon’s 16.3 PPG (36.2% 3P), Chris Paul’s 15.5 PPG, 8.2 APG, and Kenneth Faried’s 12.9 PPG, 8.2 RPG.
The Houston Attack. The Rockets have the second-best offensive rating in the league at 114.8, take and make the most three-pointers, and play the fourth-slowest brand of basketball at a pace of 98.46 possessions. However, they’re the third-worst rebounding team in the league, score the fewest amount of points in the paint, and surrender the second-most second chance points. If the Thunder want to win this one, they’ll need to play outstanding defense on the perimeter and take it to the Rockets in terms of physicality. Westbrook will need to be at his best, because none of that really matters if OKC can’t score the points necessary to win it (Houston 133.5 PPG over last four).
Gallo’s Game Day Report: