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Rockets vs. Thunder: Pregame Primer

Rockets vs. Thunder: Pregame Primer



Rockets (35-35, 16-20 road) vs. Thunder (48-22, 27-9 home)

Radio: WWLS The Sports Animal (98.1 FM, 640 AM, 1300 AM The Buzz Tulsa)
Time: 7:00 PM CST

Team Comparisons (per NBA.com/Stats)

  • Offensive Rating: Thunder – 109.8 (2nd), Rockets – 104.9 (8th)
    Defensive Rating: Thunder – 102.9 (13th), Rockets – 106.2 (23rd)

As is usually the case with the Oklahoma City Thunder, whenever things are going good, there is almost always something lurking in the weeds to mess things up. The Thunder are currently on a 4-game win streak, Kevin Durant was questionable with a sore elbow. This could be nothing more than the normal wear and tear of an NBA season culminating in a sore elbow from hundreds of falls throughout the year. But still, in a time when it seems like the Thunder are starting to play their best basketball of the season, to disrupt their chemistry, even for one game, would be extremely frustrating. Luckily, as of this morning, Durant has stated that he will play in the game.

But a little relief may be coming in the form of a stabilizing force from the bench. Assistant coach Mo Cheeks is due to be back on the bench tonight and will be available for home games through the end of the month. After missing nearly a month due to hip replacement surgery, Cheeks has been cleared for home games, but has yet to be cleared for travel. His absence and the absence of Monty Williams were one of the factors many pointed to when the Thunder started 4-8 after the All-Star break.

While assistant coaches may not make the major decisions in a game, they are the liaisons between player and management in most other aspects of a player’s life in-season. Missing that, especially during that tough 12-game stretch, may have added to the frustration the team felt during that time.

Series History

This is the third of four meetings between the Thunder and Rockets. The Thunder gifted the Rockets their first win of the season, after blowing a 14-point lead in the 3rd quarter. The Thunder allowed the Rockets to turn an 11-point halftime lead into a 3-point deficit heading into the 4th quarter and the Rockets never looked back from there. In the 2nd meeting, the opposite basically happened, as the Thunder used a great 3rd quarter to take control of the game and win it 116-108, behind a triple double from Russell Westbrook.

The Opponent

The Rockets come into the game with a 35-35 record, having lost 3 of their last 5 games. They have been the model of inconsistent consistency, looking like doormats one night and world-beaters the next. The chemistry between key players on the team has been a huge issue on this team, to the point where the team traded for Josh Smith in the middle of the season to be a veteran locker presence. Josh Smith?!?! JB Bickerstaff took the team over 11 games into the season, after Kevin McHale was unceremoniously fired amid allegations that James Harden asked for him to be let go. They have been a team in flux for the entire season.

James Harden continues to be one of the best offensive players in the league, scoring 28.6 points, grabbing 6.3 rebounds, and dishing out 7.2 assists per game on 34.4% shooting from 3-point territory. He is questionable with a sprained ankle/foot, but went through shoot-around this morning. Newly signed forward Michael Beasley has been a good addition on the offensive end for the Rockets, averaging 14.6 points in the 8 games he has played so far. Dwight Howard continues to be a top-10 center in the league, averaging a double double. He also continues to be a top-10 bonehead, with his latest incident involving a bottle of Stickum and his admitted usage of the substance. The league has already stated they will not suspend or fine the Rockets center for the incident. Trevor Ariza, Patrick Beverly, Corey Brewer, and Terrence Jones are all capable 3-and-D players that live off the attention garnered by Harden on the perimeter. Up front, Clint Capela has proven to be a good back-up center and will likely be a 10 year starter in the league before it is all said and done.

3 Big Things

1. Perimeter Defense

Although they aren’t very efficient, the Rockets take and make the 2nd most 3-pointers in the league. Harden and Ariza are top 15 in the league for 3-pointers attempted per game. And the Rockets feature 5 rotational players that shoot 34% or better from 3-point territory. Houston’s offense is centered around Harden’s ability to get into the paint and cause havoc, but what makes them great is their ability to score in bunches from deep.

2. Harden

The last time these two teams met, the Thunder used a variety of defenders on Harden due to Andre Roberson being out because of a knee injury. This time around, with Roberson playing, it’ll be interesting to see how the Thunder defend Harden. Dion Waiters did a good job of bodying Harden up, while Kyle Singler also did a good job of staying in front of Harden. In the last minutes of the game, Durant did a great job of making life difficult for Harden by using his length. With those four players on the floor, usually two at a time, the Thunder can switch between two defenders to disrupt any sort of rhythm Harden may be trying to build.

3. Composure

There’s always a sense of chaos ensuing any time these two teams meet. The history between Westbrook and Beverly. The big man spats between Howard and Adams. The constant trash-talking between the two teams. It makes for a great atmosphere, but also a volatile one. The Thunder know they are the better team, but that doesn’t stop them from backing down. Here’s to the cooler heads being on the Thunder side.

Thunder Killer

James Harden – Offensive weapon savant. Able to heat up quickly from deep, while also making you pay from the foul line. Most every team struggles with containing Harden, and the Thunder are no exception to that.