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Houston Rockets Host Oklahoma City Thunder: Game Preview

Jan 5, 2017; Houston, TX, USA; Oklahoma City Thunder guard Russell Westbrook (0) and Houston Rockets guard Patrick Beverley (2) at Toyota Center. Houston Rockets won 118 to 116 .Mandatory Credit: Thomas B. Shea-USA TODAY Sports
Jan 5, 2017; Houston, TX, USA; Oklahoma City Thunder guard Russell Westbrook (0) and Houston Rockets guard Patrick Beverley (2) at Toyota Center. Houston Rockets won 118 to 116 .Mandatory Credit: Thomas B. Shea-USA TODAY Sports
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In the teams’ final regular season showdown, Russell Westbrook and his Thunder come to H-town to prove themselves against the Houston Rockets.

Today’s game has just about as many implications as possible in addition to an opportunity to add a W to the win column. The first, and most important, is that the Houston Rockets will likely face the Oklahoma City Thunder in the first round of the playoffs.. James Harden has his team all but locked at the third seed, and the Thunder will probably be the sixth.

The Rockets have won two of the teams’ three meetings so far, but that doesn’t tell the whole story. On one hand, the one game that Houston lost was early in the season, before Patrick Beverley returned. His defensive presence was sorely missed, as there was nobody on the squad who could handle Russell Westbrook. If you look at it from that perspective, the Rockets have a significant advantage in the postseason.

On the other hand, the Rockets won the second two games by a total of five points. With both teams at their full potential, they played each other just about as equally as possible without continuing on in a never-ending stream of overtimes.

James Harden is certainly more deserving of the MVP than Westbrook (we wrote extensively on this), but the Brodie doesn’t like to lose. With a player like Russ on the roster, the Thunder are capable of winning on any night against any team. Of course, the Houston Rockets have Harden, to whom the same rule applies. If just one of the two MVP candidates gets hot, the opposing team will have struggles.

Speaking of MVPs, that’s the second implication of today’s match-up. The Beard has a slight lead over Westbrook in most MVP polls, but it’s pretty much neck and neck. If one superstar easily outplays the other today, it’ll resonate in the minds of voters for a long time.

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James Harden is on a streak of playing the best ball of his career, so he’ll have a lot of confidence going into today. Russ has also been playing well, and that guy hasn’t lacked confidence for one second of his whole life.

Ryan Anderson is out today with a sprained ankle, ruining the spacing for the Rockets. The team has plenty of other three point shooters, but the fact that Ryno is 6’10” forces opponents to clear the paint to send a PF out to the perimeter to guard him. This allows Harden to have more open driving lanes to work with.

Without that luxury, the Beard will have a much more difficult time getting to the hole today. The Thunder will be able to take away the lob more easily; having two guys in the paint allows one man to cover Harden on the drive and another to stay back and guard the big man. Harden is still one of the best players in the league without Anderson on the floor, but it does complicate things a bit.

Still, the Houston Rockets are the better team, and their record shows it. Despite the injury, there’s no reason why they should lose today. Because it’s a Sunday game, tip-off is at 2:30pm CST and will be nationally televised on ABC.

Next: 3-on-3 Discussion: Hypothetical Questions

Come back to Space City Scoop for some postgame analysis after today’s game, and follow @SpaceCity_Scoop on Twitter! Go Rockets!

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