With 6 games remaining and a full game out of the playoffs the Houston Rockets face the Thunder in a virtual must win situation.
Okay, so maybe that’s a bit of a reach to say they have to win, yet the reality is time is running out. The fact they trail both the Jazz and Mavericks by a full game with 6 games left means it does seem like the Houston Rockets options are limited. Though the next game versus the Mavericks will be the most crucial game of the season a win in Oklahoma City would definitely go a long way to helping bridge the difference.
Meanwhile the Thunder have been on fire as they prepare for the post season. They’ve won 9 of their last 10 games, with the lone loss in Detroit on the back end of a back to back series in which they rested Kevin Durant.
Whereas the Rockets failed to win their past game versus another desperate team (the Bulls) in which they led the majority of the game. And unlike the Thunder they are cold posting a 4-6 record through their past 10 games.
Last season the Rockets and Thunder matched up for a Sunday National TV afternoon game which ended up being a thriller as Harden and Westbrook went at each other. At game end Westbrook had won the stat match-up, but Harden’s Rockets won the game. Odds are fans in H-Town and Harden would gladly concede a Westbrook triple-double (he’s had 3 in the teams past 4 meetings) if the Rockets could notch the win!
With that, let’s break it down:
Houston Rockets Game Day: Rockets vs. Thunder
Venue: Toyota Center, Houston, Texas
Game Time: 3:30 PM EST – 2:30 PM CT
TV: Nationally on ABC and ESPNR
Radio: 790 AM and WWLS 98.1FM OKC /Sirius:207(Internet H:890/A:900)
This will be the third match up between the two ball clubs with the season series sitting at 1-1
- March 22: HOU 107 – 111 OKC
- January 29: HOU 108 – 116 OKC
- November 2: OKC 110 -105 OKC
- No injuries reported, though the Thunder may rest some players as they prepare for the post season
Breaking down the teams further highlights how much better the Thunder perform in all the key offensive and defensive rating categories. In fact the Rockets literally rank better in just one category from each side. Not surprisingly with Harden leading the league in free throw attempts they hold that advantage and they force more turnovers which lead to easy points.
Still that’s a lot of areas for the Rockets to overcome when combined with just how hot the Thunder have been of late. Fortunately with OKC firmly seeded third it might be a game coach Billy Donovan decides to give Westbrook and Durant some rest. Given the history of Westbrook and Beverley I’d be prone to save him from that match-up given the opportunity!
Keys To Winning
EARLY FOCUS: With the Rockets needing a win in as many (ideally all) their final 6 games this game is extremely important. That said, getting out to a great start is equally important. Given the above stat variances it’s easy to see why the Rockets will require a full game of focus but with the best offense and 9th ranked defense over their past 10 games a good start is even more important.
REBOUND: The Thunder are the best on the boards in the league. They grab 54.7% of the rebounds possible including 76.1% of defensive rebounds and 30.8% on the offensive glass. Even more impressive is the Thunder have been improving on the glass as the playoffs loom with higher overall ratings and offensive rebounds in March.
LIMIT SECOND CHANCE AND FAST BREAK SCORING: Going hand in hand with their rebound efforts is the need for the Rockets to limit second chance and fast break scoring. If the Rockets don’t get on the offensive glass they’ll need to get back in transition to defend or the Thunder will make them pay as they rank first in second chance .
PAINT DEFENSE: It doesn’t get much easier in the paint where the Thunder rank third for points in the paint.
TAKE ADVANTAGE OF OPPORTUNITIES: As well as the Thunder perform in the above three areas they’ve also been known to allow teams to score in the same way. Over the past month Oklahoma have been improving in this area, but if they rest any of their stars or stay focused perhaps they can capitalize.
EQUAL OFFENSIVE DISTRIBUTION: Perhaps more than any other team the Rockets will need to have even offensive distribution specifically to keep Westbrook and Durant busy defensively. The Thunder are just too strong to let their best players off the hook on defense. Case in point (as mentioned above) Russell Westbrook has three triple-doubles out the teams past four games. So, Patrick Beverley and whoever else is tasked with guarding Westbrook will need to limit his passing lanes and paint penetration.
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The odds makers have Oklahoma City as 3 point favorites with an over/under of 222 points and early heavy action on the Thunder.
As far as a prediction on the game a quick look at the Houston Rockets mind set is telling: NBA.com notes the team’s frustration via a Harden quote:
“It’s very frustrating, especially in games where we should win,” said James Harden, who had only four points in the fourth after netting 18 in the final period of Wednesday’s win against the Cavaliers. “We’ve got to figure it out.”
Notably coach Bickerstaff has been limiting Howard’s minutes especially in the closing minutes presumably to stop teams from fouling him, but (again via NBA.com) the Rockets have been allowing 28.1 points in the fourth quarter over their last 11 games. The other obvious answer is opponents know the ball will end up in Harden’s hands with predominantly isolation plays run through him. Ask yourself how hard it is for opponents to double team Harden knowing he is looking for his own number 90% of the time and perhaps that offers the reason for the fourth quarter demise.
That said the last time the Rockets were on the road, were underdogs and weren’t favored by the public they ended up coming back from a 20 point deficit. What stood out in that Cleveland game was the zebras were extremely generous in aiding their come back. Why that is relevant is in the game day preview I called for that very thing to occur.
So, could the refs have a hand in today’s game in the same fashion? It’s sad I’ve find myself considering the influence by officials, however the fact remains they’ve been a factor in too many games this season. To that end, every game I look to see what the spreads are and more importantly where the action is leaning. In situations where a team is a heavy underdog and the over-under is close I can’t help but consider how much a role the officials will play ensuring the underdog wins. That fact in itself is scary and if it occurs again today (which is what I’m predicting) perhaps it might be time for Adam Silver to investigate!
Rockets by 3 with assistance from the zebras.
Keep your fingers crossed Rockets fans as both the Mavericks and Jazz also play today which means losses by those teams and a win by the Rockets could find the teams in a 3 way tie. The problem is Utah and Dallas’ opponents are far easier as they play the Suns and T-Wolves respectively though both will be trying to play spoiler.
Regardless of this afternoon’s outcome the next game up versus Dallas could determine whether the Rockets lace up their shoes or pull out their fishing poles early. A win this afternoon could help ease the pressure.
For more exciting news and stories on the the Oklahoma City Thunder visit our affiliate FanSided site: Thunderous Intentions
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