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2010-2011 Game 17 Preview: Oklahoma City at Houston; Has the Zebra Changed It's Stripes?

This also counts as an open thread, so feel free to post your thoughts during the game here.

Records: The Oklahoma City Thunder (11-5) vs. The Houston Rockets (4-11)

Time: 6:00 PM Central Standard Time

Place: The Toyota Center, Houston, Texas

TV: Fox Sports Net Oklahoma, Fox Sports Net Houston

Radio: WWLS The Sports Animal (98.1), SportsRadio 610

Enemy Blog(s): The Dream Shake

Previous Meeting(s): Nov. 17th

We played the Rockets a week and a half ago, and it was a game that easily fell into our hands. The tough Rockets team of a year ago that challenged us at every encounter has been replaced by a deflated and injury-riddled team, that didn't put up much of a fight. Has the team that everyone predicted to be a playoff contender this year shown improvement? No, not really. They've had losses to the lowly Raptors and Bobcats, with a respectable loss to the Suns and a win over the Warriors, who were ailing without David Lee.

And things don't look to get any better for them tonight against the Thunder. Aaron Brooks will be out until December 4th or so, and it's anyones guess as to when Yao will be back. But, there is still hope of a Rockets win.

Why? Well, they have seen some exceptionally bad play from their peripheral players in Shane Battier, Kyle Lowry, and Chase Budinger. They're all shooting under 39% overall, and under 28% from three (with Lowry shooting a pithy 19.1%). If these guys can get hot, then the Rockets stand a chance. Well, they don't have to get hot, they just have to perform reasonably well and stop sucking eggs.

Below: The Rockets' Main Scorers, The Potential of the Rockets' Bench, Krstic is Back, Prediction!

Regardless, the Rockets will continue to rely on Luis Scola and Kevin Martin for the bulk of their scoring, so they should be the main focus of the Thunder's defense tonight. Hopefully Ibaka can have a better night defensively, and we always know Sefolosha can get work done on Kevin Martin. (He was limited to 19 points and had three turnovers last game.)

Lastly, the Thunder will have to watch out for the youngsters on the Rockets' bench. Jordan Hill, Ishmael Smith, and Jermaine Taylor all saw increased playing time the last time these two teams encountered each other, and they continue to do so when the Rocket's role players are not performing up to par. Jermaine Taylor rarely sees the floor, and Ishamel Smith is basically a prototypical backup Point Guard. But Jordan Hill, who never really saw much burn in the previous two years of his career, could be in a breakout year, as he has performed well whenever he's gotten significant playing time. He's scored 14 in three out of the past four games where he's played over 20 minutes, and he's a capable rebounder for a small forward. But, the overarching point is that these youngsters (along with Courtney Lee) have played reasonably well together and usually enjoy a decent plus/minus rating when compared to the starters. So I wouldn't put it past them to keep the Rockets in the game heading into the final quarter.

But, by and large, this should be an easy win. Nenad Krstic will be back from the sore back that kept him out Friday against Indiana, and the Thunder have been on a roll. There's really nothing to indicate that the Rockets will snap out of it and make this a competitive game. But, stranger things have happened, so the Thunder will definitely need to keep both eyes open tonight.

Prediction: Oklahoma City 108, Houston 92