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Houston Rockets Game Day – There’s a Thunder Storm Brewing

By Tamberlyn Richardson
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Houston Rockets Game Day: Rockets vs. Thunder

Entering the second week of the NBA season few predicted the Houston Rockets would still be in search of their first win and preparing to face one of the 6 remaining undefeated teams in the Association. Nor would many have forecast the Rockets losing by 20 points in 3 successive losses. Suffice to say it’s been a shocking start for Clutch City and tonight they get the privilege of playing the back end of  a back-to-back set against potentially the deepest and most talented team in the

universe

NBA.

For those of you not keeping track, the Thunder are unbeaten and their super stars in stark contrast to the Rockets stars posted 91 points (yes, just the two of them) in a double overtime victory versus the Magic.

Orlando by the way are much better than their record says and are about to come into H-Town on Wednesday. If Houston lose tonight to OKC and Orlando lose to New Orleans (another win-less team) on Tuesday it sets up the potential for one team to end their misery. But, I digress, back to the game at hand.

As the Rockets attempt to find a resolution to what ails them and rediscover the successful penchant for winning let’s take a look at the game and how the Houston Rockets match up to the Oklahoma City Thunder:

The Details

Venue: Toyota Center, Houston

Game Time: 8:00 PM EST – 7:00 PM CT

TV: ROOT and NBA TV

Radio: 790 AM

Recent History:

Last season the Rockets swept the Thunder in their 3 contests :

  • November 16th in OKC: Rockets won 69-65
  • January 15th in Houston: Rockets won 112-101
  • April 5th in OKC: Rockets won 115-112

Notably the Thunders’ Big 3 played in only one of these games (January 15th) with just one of the Big 3 available in each of the other two games.

You might recall the last game which was featured on National TV on a Sunday afternoon when James Harden and Russell Westbrook went at each other. Westbrook registered another of his league leading triple-doubles that day scoring 40 points, had 11 rebounds and dished 13 assists while James Harden scored 41 points, had 6 of each rebounds/assists and notched the win. It was a chippy affair and may give some precedent for what to expect this evening.

Walking Wounded:

Thunder:

  • For the second consecutive night the Rockets face a team with no injuries to report

Rockets:

  • Donatas Motiejunas – still recovering from off season back surgery, no update on scheduled return date
  • Terrence Jones remains questionable for tonight as per CBS Sports

Projected Starters:

Thunder: Russell Westbrook, Andre RobersonKevin Durant, Serge Ibaka, Steven Adams

Rockets: Ty Lawson, James HardenMarcus Thornton, Trevor Ariza, Dwight Howard

Grading the Match-ups:

Point Guard – Westbrook vs Lawson:

Lawson is still adapting to a new team and new sets and Westbrook is on fire making a solid legitimate argument for his own Most Valuable Player Award.

This is what it looks like when Russell Westbrook destroys your soul. https://t.co/RcxKbS3ZPK https://t.co/6tPT63AQeh

— SB Nation (@SBNation) November 2, 2015

Edge: Russell Westbrook

Shooting Guard – Andre Roberson vs James Harden

Yeah we all know the story, James Harden has started the season about as poorly as possible. It’s like he’s got one arm tied behind his back. Through 3 games he’s 12 of 54 from the field for 22.2% and he’s 3 of 32 from three for 9.3% that’s right NINE percent from three. Yet, you don’t go from being among the league leaders in scoring and an MVP candidate to one of the worst scorers in the NBA unless there is something afoot. Could it be he’s injured? Both shoulders were taped yesterday and he seemed to be trying to initiate offense via passing it to the open man more than just throwing up shots. Hey, maybe he’s not used to his adidas yet. Who knows.

Tonight he’ll face off against a defensive specialist in Andre Roberson who shouldn’t keep him too busy on the defensive end, but if you love the Rockets say a little prayer that his old teammates will spark something in him to remove whatever curse, mind fog or ailment is blocking him.

Edge: James Harden There is an old basketball adage which states when shooters get in a slump the way to get out of it is to continue shooting. I’m applying that here and will continue to until he breaks through. He is the best shooting guard in the league and eventually that will be the difference in the Rockets winning a game.

Small Forward – Kevin Durant vs ???

Yesterday McHale started Marcus Thornton in the small forward role and moved Trevor Ariza to the power forward position. Terrence Jones is listed as questionable so it’s likely the team goes with one of Thornton, Brewer or possibly keep Ariza at the small forward and insert Montrezl Harrell at the power forward. Hey, here’s a thought why not put in K.J. McDaniels at the small forward if you go with Ariza at the four, so you at least have some athleticism on Durant and Ibaka.

Edge: Kevin Durant Who am I kidding?

Power Forward: Serge Ibaka versus Trevor Ariza (?)

Given Jones is still listed as out I’m guessing McHale returns to using a reserve Rocket at the small forward and moves Ariza to the power forward spot again. It makes for an interesting match-up, but odds are he’ll be guarding Durant. Still, the Rockets need someone with length and who is agile to guard Ibaka who spreads the floor on offense (like Ariza) and who rebounds, blocks and protects the rim. (somewhat like Ariza). Trevor for his part needs to keep Ibaka busy on offense and hopefully he’ll rediscover his scoring touch from preseason

Edge: EVEN

Center – Steven Adams vs. Dwight Howard

While we’ll be thanking Howard and McHale later in the season, especially if Howard is healthy, resting him now is opening up all kinds of questions given the Rockets start. I’ll join that discussion as it made no sense to me not to play him in the first of the back-to-back games given it would allow him longer to rest for Orlando and they could have asked how he felt following the game. Whiteside was the guy who predominantly killed them inside so Howard would have off set much of that production. Adams isn’t going to do that to the Rockets and again there was no clear indication of when Jones would return.

Further, as much as I can respect the Rockets thinking they could grab a win in Orlando and save Howard for OKC they need to register a win right now to shoo that monkey off their back.

Edge: Dwight Howard   (lets hope he stays out of foul trouble though)

Reserves:

Thunder: Enes Kanter, Dion Waiters, Anthony Morrow, D.J. Augustin, Mitch McGary, Kyle Singler

Rockets: Patrick Beverley, Corey BrewerChuck Hayes,   Clint Capela,  Montrezl Harrell

This past off season the Rockets were attempting to do what the Thunder did during the season: shore up their bench with depth and retain core contributors. So far the Thunder are benefiting from that depth while the Rockets are learning injuries and chemistry aren’t something you can control.

Edge: Thunder With an already battered, young and injury riddled front court Enes Kanter will serve the purpose as to why the Thunder paid him so much this summer: wear out the opposing front court so by the time the fourth quarter comes Durant and Westbrook can dominate. The Thunder take this based on their performance through the first 3 games coupled with the fact even Dion Waiters is playing team ball… who would have believed that?

Keys to Winning:

  • KEEP IT SIMPLE… exactly what it says.
  • MOVE… people and the ball. As we heard endlessly in the post game interviews the squad needs to not be stagnate on offense.
  • EFFORT:  Houston came up with effort in the first half Sunday and rolled into the fetal position the minute the Heat made their run. Look if the shots not falling then you need to be aggressive offensively, but even more defensively.
  • REBOUND: I maintain the key to Houston improving relies heavily on their ability to rebound the ball especially on the defensive end. This leads to quick transition up the court where the team can set up like they do in practice. With no true chemistry in place yet, the closer they can get to a set pattern they are expecting (like they do in practice) the more likely they are to produce offensively.
  • PACE: The stagnancy being referred to stems from no movement and lack of rebounding.  If they can do the first two things (move/rebound) it will help increase their pace.
  • POINTS IN THE PAINT: when your shots not falling the best way to open the court is to score in the paint. Let Lawson penetrate and either offer up scoring options for the bigs or pass out to reset. At least you’ve got the defense moving while you are creating a potentially easier scoring opportunity inside.

More from Space City Scoop

The Pick:

The odds makers favor Oklahoma City by 4 points with an over under of 215 points.

Examining the stats (granted through just 3 games) here’s what stands out:

  • OKC lead the Association in scoring with 122.7 points per game while the Rockets rank tied for 29th with 88.7 ppg. That’s a 34 point differential
  • OKC hold a 10 rebound per game advantage over the Rockets
  • As a team the Rockets are shooting 24.5% from behind the arc while OKC are connecting on 39.4%
  • Perhaps the scariest stat is OKC field goal percentage of 48.6% (2nd) while Houston is again at the bottom of the standings 37.1% (29th). Again that’s a big difference for the team to manage of 11.5%
  • Through the first 3 games the Thunder rank 2nd on offense, 20th on defense (101.3) with a net rating of 6th (+10.5)
  • Conversely the Rockets rank 29th on offense (87.2), 26th on defense (109) and are dead last in net rating (-21.8)
  • And for the piece de resistance the Thunder have a point differential of plus +11 while the Rockets are currently in a negative (as we all know) of minus -20. So there is that 31 points differential to deal with .

To put it bluntly, we are looking at teams literally at the top and bottom of the NBA ladder. However, it’s early in the season and strange things can happen when teams take others for granted. Just last season though the Thunder were without their stars (sometimes all 3) they were in every game competing to win. Houston began the season ravaged by injury (hmmm deja vu?) and were winning in spite of it.

Bottom line, though I won’t pick Houston to win this game I’ll hope they find something positive to draw from as they continue their horrid opening schedule. At least they’ll face a few teams not quite in the same stratosphere as Golden State and Oklahoma City later this week and word out of Sacramento is Boogie Cousins might not be able to go, so there is that.

At the end of the day James Harden summed it up best in his post game interview “You can’t have a stagnate offense and not get stops either, somethings got to give.

Next: Thunder Preview: The Season Of Revenge

Make sure you catch up on our entire Team Preview Series, our Houston Rockets Player Profile Series as well as our SCS Round Table Sessions to help you get through the early season. Above you’ll find the links to the Thunder season preview and as always stay with Space City Scoop for all things Houston Rockets.

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