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2012-2013 Game 53 Preview: Thunder Begin Post-All-Star Push Vs. Rockets

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Let's get one thing straight: The Thunder absolutely must win this game.

The Luxury Tax jokes will never go away, will they?
The Luxury Tax jokes will never go away, will they?
William Bennett Berry

2012-2013 NBA Season
The Oklahoma City Thunder (39-14)
The Houston Rockets (29-26)
February 20th, 2013
The Toyota Center, Houston, Texas
7:00 PM CST
Fox Sports Net Oklahoma, Comcast Sports Net Houston
WWLS the Sports Animal (98.1), SportsTalk 790
Enemy Blogs: The Dream Shake, Red94
Previous Meetings: Nov 28th, Dec 29th (Thunder Lead Season Series 2-0)
Injury Report: Toney Douglas (Unknown)
Probable Starters
Russell Westbrook PG Jeremy Lin
Thabo Sefolosha SG James Harden
Kevin Durant SF Chandler Parsons
Serge Ibaka PF Patrick Patterson
Kendrick Perkins C Omer Asik

Let's get one thing straight: The Thunder absolutely must win this game.

After a terrible nearly month-long stretch, the Thunder must wake up from their slumber. We all know that things get serious after the All-Star game, but this matchup is innately winnable. The Rockets are a middle of the road team that's gotten creamed by the Thunder on two separate occasions. I'm not talking fading in the fourth. I'm talking absolute cannings from start to finish. Moreover, the Thunder are well-rested, haven't moved across time zones, and have a last crack at James Harden.

I know, I know. If the Thunder lose tonight, it's not the end of the world. But every team has to break out of a slump at some point, and for the Thunder, now is the perfect time. As I mentioned in my recent article about the slump, the Thunder have 7 games coming up that they should be able to sweep. But in those 7 games, this one is the most winnable of them all.

I might be hating on the Rockets a bit too much, but their roster is simply not conducive to beating the Thunder. They run an extremely fast pace and try to outgun the opposing team, but by all accounts, the Thunder have more offensive firepower than they do. (It's true that both teams are neck and neck in terms of PPG, but the Thunder do it on less possessions.) The Heat are able to dominate the Thunder by going small, but the Rockets rely a lot more on getting those small guys in the post, and the Thunder have one of the best paint defenses in the league. Furthermore, they don't really have a big who can exploit the Thunder in the mid-range.

If there is an area of concern for the Thunder tonight, it'd have to be turnovers. The Thunder are a turnover-heavy team, and while the Rockets definitely don't play defense like the Warriors or Suns did back in the day, they still rely on solid ball control. If the Thunder start losing the possession battle, as they did against the Jazz and Heat, then a good shooting percentage is almost meaningless.

Of course, this game is at Houston's home and right after the All-Star festivities, so they might have a bit of momentum going for them. But heck, I don't care if this game is close. All that matters is the W. Oh, and blocking James Harden.

Prediction: Oklahoma City Thunder 123, Houston Rockets 113.

If you are looking for tickets to upcoming games, you can find Oklahoma City Thunder tickets here.