Rockets vs. Thunder: Pregame Primer
Rockets (25-23, 10-12 road) vs. Thunder (35-13, 21-5 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 – 104.2 (7th)
Defensive Rating: Thunder – 101.4 (12th), Rockets – 106.1 (25th)
3-1. There are a couple ways to look at the last road trip. You could spin it positively and say the Thunder were knocked off their routine because of Superstorm Jonas, but still found ways to win. Or you could look at the glass half empty and say the road trip (and its subsequent injuries) showed the frailty of the team and proved how much of a house of cards the team truly is.
The answer, as always, probably lies somewhere in the middle. This team usually plays its best all-around game when they are looking to make a comeback in the fourth quarter. It’s a brand of basketball that breeds excitement, but ultimately, is unsustainable. You can mount a furious comeback against a Carmelo Anthony-less Knicks team, but do that against the teams above you in the food chain, and you likely won’t have the same result.
The worst result from the road trip wasn’t the loss to Brooklyn. Instead, it was the injury to Andre Roberson that will likely keep him out until after the All-Star break. Although Roberson is a problem on the offensive end, its on the defensive end where his loss will be felt the most. A lot like Serge Ibaka on the inside, Roberson cleans up a lot of the messes on the perimeter with his length and ability to recover. Take his chaos-inducing presence away, and teams become a lot more comfortable in their half-court sets.
Over the next three weeks, the Thunder will face the likes of James Harden, Bradley Beal, Victor Oladipo, Splash Brothers, and Devin Booker/Archie Goodwin. If the last two games are any indication, then the Thunder will need to score at least 120 points per game to even be in contention to win the game.
This is the second of four meetings between the Thunder and Rockets. The Rockets won the first meeting 110-105, handing the Thunder their first loss of the season. In the game, the Thunder sported a 14 point lead with 9 minutes left to play in the third quarter. But they entered the fourth quarter down by 3 and could never claw their way back into the game.
The Rockets come into the game with a 25-23 record, having won 3 of their last 4 games. James Harden entered this season wanting to prove he was worthy of the MVP Steph Curry won last season. Instead, the Rockets’ season seems to have turned around when they acquired their real MVP, Josh Smith. Since starting the season 5-10 and going through a coaching change, the Rockets have since gone 20-13 to climb back into the playoff picture in the Western Conference.
Coming off his fourth All-Star game selection, James Harden continues to lead the Rockets in scoring (27.5) and assists (6.9). He’s having a better overall season this year, as compared to last season, but his impact has not been felt as much. If leadership was a stat, those numbers would be significantly down this season. The super athleticism that Dwight Howard once possessed is starting to wane, but he still remains one of the better interior big men in the league. His scoring isn’t what it used to be, but he is still grabbing 12 rebounds per game to go along with 1.6 blocks. Probably the most disappointing acquisition of the offseason, Ty Lawson is only averaging 6.6 points in 24 minutes of play. On the perimeter, Trevor Ariza, Corey Brewer, and Patrick Beverly all provide 3-and-D ability to compliment Harden’s ability to get into the lane. Up front, Clint Capela is developing into a big man that will have a long career in this league and Terrance Jones continues to be a jack of all trades, master of none.
3 Big Things1.Perimeter Defense
Between this game and the Golden State game, I’m honestly very afraid as to what Harden and Curry/Thompson will do against the Roberson-less Thunder. The Thunder made Langston Galloway, Arron Afflalo, and Zach Lavine look like newly chosen All-Stars in the last two games. We’ll see what happens against real All-Star guards. The first point of attack is to try to keep Harden out of the lane. Can a combination of Dion Waiters and Kyle Singler do that? I don’t know, but I do expect them to be close to fouling out by the end of the game. Secondly, the Rockets are 2nd in the league in 3-pointers made, at 10.8 per game. Players like Ariza, Brewer, Beverly, and Marcus Thornton are all threats to hit from the outside.2. DJ Augustin
With Cameron Payne out after suffering a concussion against the Timberwolves, the Thunder will once again go with Augustin at back-up point guard. He’ll likely be matched up against Lawson, who luckily, is about the same size as Augustin and has apparently lost some of his quickness. The biggest thing that gets lost with Payne being out is the ball movement on the 2nd team. How will the games of Enes Kanter, Kyle Singler, and Anthony Morrow suffer with Payne out?3. Containing Runs
The Rockets are a team that can score points in bunches. Their defense is not that great, but when they get cooking, they can stop you defensively and score at will on the offensive end. It’s essentially what they did against the Thunder in the 2nd half during their last game, turning a 14 point deficit in the 3rd quarter into a 3 point lead heading into the 4th quarter.
Thunder Killer – Opposing player most likely to have a breakout game against the Thunder:
James Harden – I was thinking about getting all cute and picking some surprise selection. But, without Roberson, it has to be Harden. I see 35+ points, several soul-crushing 3’s, and double digit trips to the free throw line incoming.