Rockets (15-7, 9-5 road) vs. Thunder (14-8, 9-4 home)
Radio: WWLS The Sports Animal (98.1 FM, 640 AM, 930 AM (Spanish))
Time: 7:00 PM CST
Team Comparisons (per NBA.com/Stats)
- Offensive Rating: Thunder – 103.1 (16th), Rockets – 111.0 (4th)
Defensive Rating: Thunder – 101.7 (7th), Rockets – 105.7 (21st)
Rest is the great white whale for the NBA. Teams scour the schedule when it comes out in August to look for pockets of rest throughout the season. The smart teams pinpoint games where their best players, usually grizzled vets, can strategically take nights off throughout the season without affecting the team’s win-loss record or playoff seeding. The San Antonio Spurs started this trend several seasons ago and much of the NBA has followed suit.
The Oklahoma City Thunder haven’t really had much reason to follow this trend during their time in the Great Plains. They’ve always been one of the more younger teams in the league and that fact still remains true to this day. The Thunder just went through a stretch where they played 7 games in 11 days. They went 4-3 during that stretch, winning the last four games to begin their current 6-game win streak. More recently, the Thunder went through an eight day stretch in which they only played in two games.
It is during these times that players have a chance to recharge their batteries and try to get over minor injuries. Steven Adams has been dealing with his fair share of minor injuries (hand and ankle), so hopefully this lull in action has helped in his recovery. Russell Westbrook probably isn’t the best player to ask to sit out a game for rest. He’ll likely do it, but he’ll also probably cuss you out as he’s agreeing to it. It’s in these pockets where a team like the Thunder can buy some rest for some of their high-usage players. The Thunder won’t see a stretch like this again until late January, where the get a four-day break in between road games in Oakland and Salt Lake City.
Season Series Recap
This is the second of four meetings this season between the Thunder and Rockets. The Thunder won the first meeting at home, 105-103. The Thunder held the Rockets to 13 points in the 4th quarter of that game, as they erased a 5-point deficit to win by two.
The Rockets come into the game with a 15-7 record, having won their last four games. Since their loss to the Thunder on November 16th, Houston has gone 9-2, with two victories over the Trailblazers and one victory over the Warriors in a double overtime thriller. Houston is playing like your typical Mike D’antoni-coached team would play: fast paced, efficient, and with little to no regard for defense.
And that works with the roster the Rockets have compiled. This system is built for James Harden, and he’s paying dividends with averages of 28.5 points and 11.4 assists. The Rockets are 2nd in the league in both true shooting percentage and effective field goal percentage. What that basically means is that if it isn’t an open three or a shot in the paint, it likely isn’t going up in the Houston’s offense. The Rockets have 5 rotation players, outside of Harden, who are shooting 38% or better from 3. Eric Gordon has turned into a super 6th-man, averaging 17 points off the bench on nearly 42% shooting from deep. Ryan Anderson, Trevor Ariza, and Clint Capela chip in with a dozen points per game from each.
- Cameron Payne (foot)
3 Big Things1. Andre Roberson
Here’s the thing with elite scorers: they remember when a specific defender had a good game against them. In their last meeting, Andre Roberson forced Harden into a 4-16 shooting night, to go along with 6 turnovers. Roberson did a masterful job of staying in front of Harden, and not biting on all his pump-fakes and herky-jerky movements. The beauty of having someone like Roberson is that it allows the other defenders to stay at home on Houston’s deep threats. This, in turn, limits the effectiveness of Harden as a “points guard”.2. Rebounding
Both these teams use the rebound to jump start their offense. Whether it’s Russell Westbrook or James Harden leading the charge, the rebound is where the offense starts for both of these teams. The team that controls the glass tonight will likely control the pace of the game.3. James Harden and Russell Westbrook
Just enjoy the show. These two guys are playing at historic levels this season.