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OKC Thunder (24-5) vs. Houston Rockets (21-11) Preview

May 3, 2013; Houston, TX, USA; Oklahoma City Thunder small forward Kevin Durant (35) controls the ball during the fourth quarter against the Houston Rockets in game six of the first round of the 2013 NBA Playoffs at the Toyota Center. Mandatory Credit: Troy Taormina-USA TODAY Sports

Oklahoma City Thunder
Offensive efficiency: 106.4 (4th)
Defensive efficiency: 97.6 (2nd)
True shooting percentage: 55.9 (4th)
Offensive rebound rate: 26.8 (10th)
Turnover rate: 14.4 (19th)
Pace: 99.1 (5th)

Houston Rockets
Offensive efficiency: 108.0 (3rd)
Defensive efficiency: 101.9 (10th)
True shooting percentage: 57.4 (2nd)
Offensive rebound rate: 27.2 (9th)
Turnover rate: 15.4 (28th)
Pace: 98.2 (6th)

What have they done lately?

The Oklahoma City Thunder have played one game on the road vs. the Charlotte Bobcats since finding out that Russell Westbrook was going to be out until after the All-Star break. The Thunder came away with the narrow win but the team looked different without Russ. The pace was slower, less open shots were coming to the role players, and Kevin Durant had to do anything (which he ended up doing). It’s not going to happen overnight, but the Thunder need to get used to playing without Westbrook.

Houston has won three of their last four games and six of their last 10. James Harden missed a few games, but Dwight Howard has been playing the best basketball he has in years. Howard is averaging 20.1 points and 14.6 rebounds per game in the month of December while shooting 60.5 percent from the free throw line. After missing two games, Harden has come back strong in the Rockets’ three-straight wins scoring 28, 27 and 21 points.

The matchup

A rivalry may be blossoming between these two teams after meeting in the first round of the playoffs last year. Of course, that was when Westbrook first injured his knee when Patrick Beverley collided into him. Beverley won’t be playing tonight as these two teams meet for the first time this season.

Going up against Howard, Kendrick Perkins may finally be relevant and valuable for the Thunder. However, the Rockets’ offense is still great at spacing the floor, especially of late with their newfound answer at the four in Terrence Jones. If the ball gets moving and the Rockets are getting a lot of open threes, the Thunder will be in trouble.

It’s hard to say exactly what the Thunder need to do without Westbrook. It feels like for now, it’s just to survive. They are going to have a hard time keeping up with the Rockets tonight. The Thunder might be better off with the slower paced game.

Chandler Parsons is one of few defenders in the NBA that does a decent job on Durant. The Rockets are improved on the defensive end this season and taking away KD will be priority number one tonight.

Prediction

The Thunder didn’t look good in their win over Charlotte Friday night. This is a really tough matchup in just their second game without Westbrook. I don’t think they can keep up with the Rockets, even though they will be at home. I have the Rockets winning by less than 10 points, but convincingly.

Projected starters

Thunder
PG: Reggie Jackson (12.4 ppg, 3.4 apg, 3.8 rpg)
SG: Thabo Sefolosha (6.3 ppg, 4.0 rpg)
SF: Kevin Durant (28.3 ppg, 4.8 apg, 8.2 rpg)
PF: Serge Ibaka (14.3 ppg, 9.0 rpg, 2.3 bpg)
C: Kendrick Perkins (2.8 ppg, 3.8 rpg)

Rockets
PG: Jeremy Lin (14.5 ppg, 4.2 apg)
SG: James Harden (24.0 ppg, 5.5 apg, 4.7 rpg)
SF: Chandler Parson (17.4 ppg, 3.8 apg, 5.3 rpg)
PF: Terrence Jones (10.5 ppg, 6.5 rpg)
C: Dwight Howard (18.2 ppg, 13.4 rpg, 1.8 bpg)

How to watch

The game will tip-off at 6 p.m. CST and air on FSOklahoma.

Topics: Oklahoma City Thunder

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