After a franchise best 6-1 start, the Thunder have dropped four straight games. All losses have been to quality opponents, but the Thunder generally don’t drop four in a row. Some of the losses were worrying in different ways. Detroit managed to thrash the Thunder without their All-Star center, Andre Drummond. The Raptors dispatched the Thunder without the services of Jonas Valanciunas. Those two losses in particular have called into question the effectiveness of Enes Kanter and Steven Adams as regular offensive options for the Thunder.
After a short road trip to Detroit, the Thunder are back at home for a three game homestand. Next week, the Thunder head out West. These three home games are all against opponents that are stuck in the NBA’s middle class (Rockets, Pacers, Nets). Winning out at home would send a real message that the Thunder are a playoff team. A 2-1 record would be tenable, but not inspiring. 1-2 or 0-3, and I’m really starting to worry.
This game against the Rockets has the most emotional attachment to it. It’s been a long time since Harden wore a Thunder uniform, but his trade was always seen as the break-up of a potential Thunder dynasty. National analysts blame Presti for making the deal too soon, and local fans blame Harden for not taking a discounted deal. Nowadays, Harden has proven himself incompatible with other large personalities. Harden frequently butted heads with Howard, because Howard’s days as a #1 offensive option had passed him. For Harden to succeed, he must be surrounded by a team that is built around him. More or less, that is what the Rockets are now.
Still, the Rockets are very much hurting from the loss of Howard. Don’t get me wrong, Howard’s departure was good for locker-room atmosphere. But from a strictly strategic point of view, the Rockets lost a big shotblocking and rebounding presence. Capela very much brings the same things, but doesn’t have the force or size of Howard’s body. (Capela is listed 6’10” 240, Howard is listed 6’11” 265.) Furthermore, the Rockets only bench big to get regular minutes is off-season arrival, Nene. Nene is a solid bench scorer at this point in his career, and a solid rebounder for his position. But Nene is an awful defender.
Accordingly, the Rockets have had serious problems stopping opposing bigs. Gasol and Aldridge had double-digit games in a relatively secure Spurs victory over the Rockets on November 12th. And on November 5th, Dwight Howard got 20 points, 14 rebounds, and 3 assists against his former team. I’m expecting big things out of Adams and Kanter tonight.
What to Expect
As long as Oladipo and Roberson can focus on shutting down the Rocket guards, I’m confident OKC’s big men will pull through. And Westbrook has never really been significantly hampered by the presence of Beverley or any other Rocket wing on defense. So I’m predicting a big OKC win. Damn the torpedoes, full speed ahead!
Prediction: Oklahoma City Thunder 113, Houston Rockets 93.
What are your thoughts on tonight’s game? Drop a comment and let us know!
Injuries: Patrick Beverley (Out), Cameron Payne (Out)
Time: 7:00 PM CST
Place: The Toyota Center, Houston, TX
TV: FSOK, RTSW