The Oklahoma City Thunder will travel to take on the Houston Rockets on national television tonight on TNT. The two teams have met once so far this season on Dec. 29 in OKC when the Thunder blew out Houston 117-86. To help view this matchup from the perspective of Houston, I spoke with Michael Ma, editor of Space City Scoop.
Andrew Kennedy: The Rockets can be a tough matchup for a lot of teams. The Thunder don’t seem too bothered with matching up with them. Why do you think that is?
Michael Ma: The Rockets struggle with teams who are more athletic than them, which I believe the Thunder are. For a team that relies so much of their offense on guard penetration like the Rockets do, Serge Ibaka, Kendrick Perkins, and even Steven Adams now, all protect the basket well, making it hard to score in the paint. Also, there’s nobody on the roster who can guard Kevin Durant, or limit him.
AK: How much better does the team feel this season with Dwight Howard? Does it feel like a noticeable jump from last season?
MM: I don’t think the Rockets are better than they were last season with Howard alone than most people thought they would be. Granted, a lot of it has to do with the injuries that’s plagued the team so far, but the same problems have persisted this year that hampered the Rockets last year: defensive lapses and lack of effort on that end at times, as well as a lack of bench production. Howard’s presence and production will catapult the Rockets to a top 5 or 6 seed in the West, but it feels like that’s about it unless changes are made to the roster.
AK: What has been the downfall of the team in their losses this season? What are the trends when things aren’t going well?
MM: The Rockets have struggled against teams under the .500 mark, and that mainly comes from a lack of motivation or lack of effort. It’s understandable for a young team to have lapses like that from time to time, but something that will have to be changed if they want to be legitimate conference contenders. Also, the Rockets typically struggle when they stop moving the ball around on offense, and try to take their man one-on-one every chance they get, which can happen when teams rely so much of their offensive production from the perimeter players.
AK: What would you like to see the Rockets do differently against the Thunder tonight that they haven’t done in the past?
MM: Having Howard’s presence in the paint allows the Rockets the potential to establish a low-post game against the towers the Thunder have down low. I would like to see Howard dominate offensively if the Rockets are to have a chance to win. They tried that strategy in the first meeting, but pretty much every player other than Chandler Parsons had an off night. Too much of the Thunder focus defensively will be on defending James Harden, so that should give Howard the opportunity to shine.
MM: I think the game is close throughout, but the Rockets inability to stop Durant will cost them down the stretch. I see the Thunder taking this one 110-105.