The Oklahoma City Thunder will be on the second end of a back-to-back tonight, attempting to go 4-0 against the Houston Rockets. On Sunday night, the Thunder were able to wrap up the game in three quarters, allowing them to rest their starters for tonight. The entire Thunder team shot 52% from the floor, and made 32 assists on 45 total shots. Sunday's blowout comes on the heels of two close victories against the Magic and Spurs.
In other words, the Thunder are looking battle tested and are producing when it matters. Kevin Durant and Russell Westbrook have been key components to every victory, while other players have stepped up on different occasions. The only real black mark on the Thunder's record has been turnovers. In the first three games, the Thunder have turned it over 19 times, 20 times, and 19 times, respectively. That's not sustainable. For perspective, the Philadelphia 76ers averaged 17.7 turnovers a game last season, good for worst in the league. Even the non-playoff Thunder averaged 14.7 turnovers! OKC definitely has to cut down.
On the other hand, the Houston Rockets are facing many more issues. After reaching the Western Conference Finals last season, Houston has begun this season 0-3. Donatas Motiejunas has missed all three games, and will miss more. Dwight Howard and Marcus Thornton have missed two games each, while Terrance Jones missed Sunday's game. But even the healthy players are having major trouble. For example, James Harden, Ty Lawson, Trevor Ariza, and Corey Brewer are all shooting below 30% over the first three games. And all three losses were by a 30 point margin.
It's almost impossible to glean any analysis from such disasters. But Danny Emerman of the Dream Shake certainly tried to. After two games, Emerman claimed that it was an issue of defensive strategy....
Last year, the Rockets played at an elite defensive level because they gambled in the passing lanes, hedged the pick and roll aggressively, and recovered with rim protectors like Dwight Howard, Josh Smith, Terrence Jones, and Donatas Motiejunas. All those defensive ticks led to easy buckets, which was the Rockets' MO.
The 2015-16 Rockets, despite having perhaps better players, have inexplicably strayed away from much of that.
Defensive pace, more of an idea than a qualitative statistic, is the impact of a defense in terms of how it dictates the opposing team's pace. In the first two games, the Rockets have barely impacted the pace of the Warriors or Nuggets at all, they've had a bad defensive pace.
In other words, the Rockets calling card is aggressive defense that defends the three point line, blocks shots in the paint, and goes for steals. This year, Houston has accomplished none of those three things. Nevertheless, the Thunder should do all they can to take care of the ball tonight.
It's also important for the Thunder to try to come out aggressive and establish a lead early. The Rockets have had literally zero positive energy going their way this season, so OKC shouldn't make Houston think that they have any legs.
To me, the most interesting thing about tonight's matchup will be seeing how Houston's key offensive players respond to the Thunder's defensive stoppers. James Harden will have to get past Andre Roberson, while Dwight Howard will have to deal with the physicality of Steven Adams. The Harden-Roberson matchup is a complete mystery, as the two did not play against each other much last season. But Adams has played Howard quite a bit. The Adams-Howard battle has gone both ways, with Dwight generally succeeding whenever Adams gets into foul trouble.
Anyway, this game is going to be a little more difficult than a 30 point blowout. But considering how little success the new Rockets have had so far, it shouldn't be too hard for the Thunder to pull away late.
Prediction: Oklahoma City Thunder 123, Houston Rockets 107.
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|2015-16 NBA Season Game 4|
|November 2nd, 2015|
|The Toyota Center, Houston, Texas|
|7 PM Central Daylight Time|
|TV: Fox Sports Network Oklahoma, Fox Sports Network Houston|
|Injury Report: Terrance Jones, Donatas Motiejunas (Questionable)|
|Last Season's Matchups: Nov. 16 (L 69-65), Jan. 15 (L 112-101), Apr 5 (L 112-115)|
|Russell Westbrook||PG||Ty Lawson|
|Andre Roberson||SG||James Harden|
|Kevin Durant||SF||Marcus Thornton|
|Serge Ibaka||PF||Trevor Ariza|
|Steven Adams||C||Dwight Howard|