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Oklahoma City Thunder (55-19) vs Houston Rockets (49-25) preview

Current Records: Oklahoma City Thunder (55-19), Houston Rockets (49-25)

Last time they met: Oklahoma City Thunder (106) defeated Houston Rockets (98). Thunder leads regular season series 3-0.

Pre-game Notes:

Out of the frying pan and into the fire – that will be the feeling in the Thunder rooms after their huge victory over the Western Conference leading San Antonio Spurs and ahead of the Houston Rockets. The win over the Spurs will go down as one of the Thunder’s best all year, but they will need to move on from it quickly in order to take care of business against the Rockets. OKC will be without Russell Westbrook who was instrumental in last night’s win as he is rested ahead of the NBA Playoffs, but that will allow Reggie Jackson more time coming back from his back sprain.

The Rockets and Thunder have developed an intense rivalry since James Harden signed there and of course that playoff series last year. The bad blood between Russ and Patrick Beverley will be on hold with neither guard suiting up, but there will still be plenty of feeling in this one. Durant will be looking to match a Michael Jordan record of 30 straight games with 25+ points and while it won’t be the focus of the matchup, it is a little tantalising side story.

Oklahoma City Thunder sit 3 games behind the Spurs for the #1 seed out West and will need to win most if not all of their remaining games to try and snare it. The Thunder are riding a 3 game win streak as well and will be brimming with confidence – even on the second night of a back to back. Houston are on the wrong side of a three game streak, losing their past three matchups. They will be wanting to correct that and solidify a top 4 finish in the tough Western Conference.

Key Matchups:

Kevin Durant vs Chandler Parsons

Although not as efficient as previous performances, last night’s display just showed how dangerous Durant is on a basketball court. He was extremely well held by Kawhi Leonard and still managed to score 28 points. Parsons is going to have a very tough time guarding Durant and will need to rely on a lot of help from Garcia and others. Durant’s length and quickness makes the Parsons matchup tough, which is why KD is likely to see a LOT of Garcia and the rest of the Rockets in an attempt to slow him down. Parsons needs to make Durant accountable on defense too by remaining aggressive on the offensive side of the ball.

Reggie Jackson vs Jeremy Lin

Not exactly the same hype surrounding the point guard matchup due to the absence of Westbrook and Beverley, but it is still an important one. Jackson played a pivotal if not slightly reduced role against the Spurs as he returned from the back sprain that kept him out of the previous two contests, but he won’t have that luxury tonight. He will need to be at his best on both ends of the floor to stop the run of the Rockets and to ensure Lin doesn’t get on top and get to the bucket. This should be an excellent matchup to keep an eye on.

“The Thunder” vs James Harden

Who stops James Harden? You are not likely to stop Harden, but you might be able to do everything possible to make it tough for him. Without Thabo Sefolosha, the Thunder are going to have to rely on sending a number of different defenders to quash his influence over the game. You will see Roberson, Butler and perhaps even Perry Jones all guard Harden at one point or another and no doubt we will see Durant take up the challenge on more than one occasion. The Thunder need to keep him out of the lane and off the free throw line, or make him a volume shooter and take the rest of the Rockets out of the offense.

Prediction:

It will be a tough task mentally and physically for the Thunder to repeat the performance that saw them upset the red hot Spurs, but if they want to prove to themselves that they are NBA Champion material, they need to find a way to get it done. Perhaps they rely on Jackson, Lamb, Adams and other reserves a little more than they would normally, or they run things through Ibaka a little more frequently – whatever it takes, the Thunder must do. The Rockets would love to grab a win against a foe they have yet to defeat this year so it is going to be a very tough and contest game. Hard to argue with form though and the Thunder are looking ominous.Thunder 107, Rockets 93.

Tags: Oklahoma City Thunder

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