|2013-2014 NBA Season|
|March 11th, 2014|
|Chesapeake Energy Arena, Oklahoma City, Oklahoma|
|7:00 PM Central Standard Time|
|TV: National Basketball Association Television, Fox Sports Network Oklahoma, Comcast Sports Network Houston|
|Radio: WWLS The Sports Animal (98.1 FM/640 AM), SportsTalk 790|
|Injury Report: Kendrick Perkins (Out), Thabo Sefolosha (Out), Greg Smith (Out)|
|Previous Matchups: Dec 29, Jan 17 (Thunder Lead Season Series 2-0)|
|Patrick Beverley||PG||Russell Westbrook|
|James Harden||SG||Perry Jones III|
|Chandler Parsons||SF||Kevin Durant|
|Terrence Jones||PF||Serge Ibaka|
|Dwight Howard||C||Steven Adams|
|2013/14 Advanced Stats|
|98.2 (7th)||Pace||98.0 (9th)|
|108.1 (5th)||ORtg||107.9 (6th)|
|102.1 (9th)||DRtg||100.4 (4th)|
The recent struggles of the Thunder have been well documented on this blog, both in KevinHFY's article talking about OKC's defense and my article talking about some of the less known reasons for the slide. So I'll get away from those for a moment and focus on the Rockets.
The Rockets have been on a recent run of success, due to their finally having a healthy roster after the All-Star break and a few key additions to their roster. Trade deadline acquisition Jordan Hamilton has had a few really successful games, and could potentially be the backup wing that this team has needed. Meanwhile, Omer Asik has finally returned to the team after what many believe to be a phantom injury. His statlines won't wow anybody, but he's extremely reliable in terms of defense and rebounding. Furthermore, his 7 foot height provides a great level of consistency that the Rockets didn't used to have in terms of lineups, so they don't have to adjust to being a completely different team when Dwight is off the floor.
Really, we all knew from the start that the Rockets could be this competitive. They had an extremely talented roster from the start, and it all really hinged on fitting in new parts and avoiding injuries. Now, it's really just a question of whether they can overcome their own weaknesses and walk tall in the playoffs.
Against the Thunder tonight, the Rockets are going to try to replicate their January 17th first half performance, where they hit an unprecedented 12 threes. They proceeded to hit no threes in the second half, and lost the game. The only other matchup was a total blowout, so Clutch City doesn't have much recent success to look back on.
The Thunder have been successful against the Rockets because they're so good at protecting the rim. The Rockets love relying on strong isolation players like Howard and Harden. Furthermore, Howard and Harden both love taking a ton of their shots close to the basket, and getting to the line. So when the Thunder bring in their bombastic help defense or throw in a defensive heavyweight, it's pretty hard for either Rocket to score. In other words, both players are pretty much who the Thunder's defense was designed to beat, so they're likely going to struggle.
If you're expecting anyone to lead the Rockets tonight, I'd look for big performances out of Patrick Beverley, Chandler Parsons, and Terrence Jones. Beverley will be going against the limited Westbrook, so he'll probably slip past him for a few cheap points. Meanwhile, Parsons and Jones are decent spot shooters, and should have no problem finding holes in the Thunder's wacky defense.
I have no doubt that tonight's game will come down to the wire. The Rockets are hot, the Thunder are motivated, and the recent struggles and injuries should prevent the Thunder from getting to the next level. It will be a true test of our mettle, and barring another gross strategic error, this Thunder team should have no excuse for not giving them hell. Especially with playoff seeding on the line.
Prediction: Oklahoma City Thunder 109, Houston Rockets 105.
What do you think about tonight's game? Let us know in the comments!