2013-2014 Game 75 Preview: Thunder prepare to destroy the Rockets' launchpad

Aggression! Rivalry! Woo! - Andrew Richardson-USA TODAY Spor

The Thunder are 3-0 against the Rockets this season. However, for Houston tonight, Dwight's injury is a blessing in disguise.

2013-2014 NBA Season
Thunder_medium_medium
@
Rockets_medium
55-19
Won 3

49-25
Lost 3
April 4th, 2014
The Toyota Center, Houston, Texas
8:30 PM Central Standard Time
TV: Entertainment Sports Programming Network, Fox Sports Network Oklahoma, Comcast Sports Network Houston
Radio: WWLS 98.1FM OKC, KBME SportsTalk 790

Injury Report:

Thabo Sefolosha (Out), Russell Westbrook (Out)

Terrence Jones (Questionable), Dwight Howard (Doubtful),  Patrick Beverley (Out), Greg Smith (Out)

Previous Matchups: Dec 29 (W 117-89), Jan 16 (W 104-92), Mar 11 (W 106-98)
Probable Starters
Russell Westbrook PG Jeremy Lin
Andre Roberson SG James Harden
Kevin Durant SF Chandler Parsons
Serge Ibaka PF Terrence Jones or probably a backup wing
Kendrick Perkins C Omer Asik
2013/14 Advanced Stats
98.1 (9th) Pace 98.5 (5th)
107.8 (7th) ORtg 108.1 (6th)
100.3 (5th) DRtg 102.5 (11th)

This year, the Thunder have dominated the Houston Rockets.

Thus, as a fan, it's really easy to dismiss them as a threat. But you only have to think back a year to remember the struggles OKC ran into against Houston in the first round. Granted, the Thunder were struggling to deal with the loss of Russell Westbrook. But that doesn't excuse the fact that it took some serious KD heroics to win the Thunder Game 3, or the fact that the Thunder lost the next two games to a vastly inferior opponent.

In those two losses, the Thunder played against a very run 'n gun style Rockets team. Asik was on the floor, but he's mobile for a 7 footer, and they were really good at moving the ball. Moreover, their power forward was always undersized, and that matchup gave Ibaka serious problems on both ends of the floor. Meanwhile, at small forward, KD was basically carrying the team's offense, so his defense couldn't always be on point. As a result, both KD and Ibaka gave up way too much from beyond the arc.

Tonight, I could see the same thing happening. Because of Dwight Howard's likely absence, the Rockets will play about 10-20 minutes of smallball tonight. That lineup should produce a couple of runs against OKC's old bench. Moreover, if Terrence Jones happens to sit the night out, having Garcia or Cassipi in the starting lineup would be a huge boon. The Rockets could space the floor until the cows come home, and quite possibly make this game competitive.

The only problem with that, at least on their end, is a lack of personnel. The Rockets are already a tight rotation WITH Dwight, Jones, and Beverley. Without them, it leaves the team with only 9 viable players, two of which are Isaiah Canaan and Jordan Hamilton. Both Canaan and Hamilton have struggled to produce this season for the Rockets, so it's quite possible that the end of Houston's bench could be their downfall.

Furthermore, James Harden doesn't have a good track record against Oklahoma City. Granted, this will be the first time that he doesn't play directly against his old practice foe, Thabo Sefolosha. But the Thunder's defensive shutdown of Harden has been much more than just Thabo. They're very good about closing out on isolation-type players in the paint, so if Harden can't find anybody to pass to, he's liable to miss some shots. The Thunder are also usually good about guarding isolation threes, so Harden generally struggles to find his footing there.

On the Thunder's end, it appears that the playoff rotation is now set. Kendrick Perkins has supplanted Steven Adams in the starting lineup, and Adams has moved to the spot of 10th man. Roberson will continue to play minutes at starting shooting guard until the inevitable return of Sefolosha. At that point, Roberson will likely fall out of the rotation. Jeremy Lamb appears to be the odd man out for now, but still could see time as an 11th man in smaller lineups. Jackson, Butler, Fisher, and Collison all have guaranteed spots in the rotation.

Anyway, the Thunder are on the second end of a back-to-back, and will likely be without Russell Westbrook. Russ played against San Antonio yesterday, and is still taking time to rehab from surgery. Tonight will be KD's chance to tie Jordan's record of 30 straight games of 25 points or more, so all eyes will rest on him. Whether he carries himself to the history books and carries the team to a sweep of the Rockets could very well be a huge part of his legacy. So tune in tonight, ya slacker! :-P

Prediction: Oklahoma City Thunder 109, Houston Rockets 101.

What do you think of tonight's game? Let us know in the comments!

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