Andrew Richardson-USA TODAY Sports

Oklahoma City Thunder (46-17) vs Houston Rockets (44-19) preview


Current Records: Oklahoma City Thunder (46-17), Houston Rockets (44-19)

Last time they met: Oklahoma City Thunder (104) defeated Houston Rockets (92).

Tickets: OKC Thunder tickets

Pre-game Notes:

Things are starting to look a little shaky for the Oklahoma City Thunder since the injuries to Thabo Sefolosha and Kendrick Perkins. Not only have the Thunder dropped some games that they have been expected to win, but they have been very poor on the defensive end and have allowed two players to get loose and score career highs of 40+ points against them (vs Phoenix Suns, Gerald Green – 41pts and vs Los Angeles Lakers, Jodie Meeks – 42pts). The Thunder really need to regroup and find their focus, especially on the defensive end if they plan to curb this losing pattern.

The task won’t be made any easier as they take on the Houston Rockets. Houston managed to come all the way back, force overtime and beat the Portland Trailblazers in a thriller. They are third in the NBA in points per game at 106.6ppg and this number could be inflated unless OKC can find a way to stop Dwight Howard down low, James Harden from getting to the bucket and foul line and Chandler Parsons from the outside. The Rockets are in superb form, beating the Indiana Pacers, Miami Heat and Portland Trailblazers in a huge week of games.

As the Rockets start to click and find their way back up the standings out West, the Thunder are finding themselves sliding and no longer have the best record in the Western Conference let alone the NBA as once was the case. Injuries have played a part and incorporating pieces back into the puzzle (Westbrook) or into a more significant role (Adams, Thabeet, Jones) or just into the team (Caron Butler) has the once steady Thunder starting to look a little vulnerable.

Key Matchups:

Steven Adams / Hasheem Thabeet vs Dwight Howard

Games like this really showcase what Kendrick Perkins does for the Thunder. He is a big, mature, solid body who relishes the challenge of taking on the big guys – and they don’t get much bigger than Dwight Howard. Adams has been solid but is very foul prone and while Thabeet has been very impressive in the minutes he has been getting, he is not as big or as strong as Perkins and this is where the Thunder are really going to have to work extremely hard to minimize the damage Dwight will do. It will be a “center by committee” as OKC will throw everyone available at the Rockets center in the hope of curbing his influence over this contest. Easier said than done though.

Kevin Durant vs Chandler Parsons

Durant was able to get a triple double as he tried valiantly to bring the Thunder back from a big deficit against the Lakers. The result didn’t fall their way, but it wasn’t due to Durant’s efforts. It may seem as though Durant has cooled off during this rough patch but that is far from the case. KD has still been putting up huge numbers and being as effective and efficient as ever, but the losing takes the shine off these performances. The Rockets and Chandler Parsons in particular will not want to take this one for granted because Durant is going to be ready to go in this one. Parsons himself is carving out a terrific season and has a very good balance of inside / outside game. With a lot of focus on Harden and Howard, Parson can demolish a team if given half a chance. It will be up to Durant and the Thunder to not let that happen.

Russell Westbrook vs Patrick Beverley

You can bet your bottom dollar that Russell Westbrook has had this one circled in his calendar for a very long time. It is no secret that Westbrook was extremely unhappy with the play Beverley made resulting in the Westbrook injury and subsequent time missed – so he will be fired up for this one. This can be a very interesting situation though as Westbrook can be very good when fired up or he can lose focus. If Russ is on song, then he may make it a very long night for Beverley, Lin and the rest of the Rockets, but if he focuses too much on the personal agenda it could be to the detriment of the team. Westbrook wants to win and the Thunder really need him to help make this happen. Let’s hope we see a fired up and focused Westbrook who makes the right plays and puts winning over everything else.

Prediction:

It is tough to gauge just how this game is going to go. The Houston Rockets are in their best form of the season and the Thunder are far from it. With the defensive issues the Thunder are experiencing, as well as the loss of key personnel (Perkins and Sefolosha will be BIG outs in this one) you can make a very good case for the Rockets to not only go into this one as favorites, but comfortably so. However, you cannot write off the Thunder in any contest and this is no exception. Kevin Durant has averaged 34.5ppg and 9rpg against the Rockets this season – both wins – while Westbrook has yet to suit up against them. This one should be a classic and very tough to predict. Thunder 116, Rockets 115.

Tags: Featured Houston Rockets Oklahoma City Thunder Popular