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Thunder vs. Rockets Preview: Thunder look to snuff out Rockets’ playoff hopes

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The Rockets have everything to play for; the Thunder don’t. Houston should win this game at home. But I think they’ll find a way to lose.

William Bennett Berry

Where They At: Oklahoma City Thunder

The Thunder are essentially done with the season. After surging through a tough schedule to that 8-game win streak, they’ve started playing the rest/cruise control game over their last two. The third seed is all but locked up, and Russell Westbrook’s triple-double count and Kevin Durant’s 20-point game streak are about the only thing at stake down the stretch. But, the rotation is still not set in stone, and Billy Donavan has been adjusting his lineups on a nightly basis. And that is the area of most intrigue as we look ahead to the postseason: which guys are gonna play? Which will close? Will KD keep playing so much at the 4? Will one of the many distraught Thunder fans go Tony Harding on Kyle Singler before all is said and done? Stay tuned.

Where They At: Houston Rockets

Houston is such a mess. Last year, they survived what appeared to be a disastrous offseason to shock everyone as the 2-seed out West behind James Harden near-MVP performance. Ironically, their downfall this year may have been Darryl Morey’s conservative moves rather than any fast and loose asset swapping that he’s criticized for. He really only added Ty Lawson (an extremely cheap pickup) to the roster that played above expectations on the way to the 2015 Western Conference Finals. That same roster cratered this season, and Morey’s swiftness returned in a reactionary firing of Kevin McHale. That change hasn’t mattered, and the team (including Harden) has simply regressed badly on defense.

They’re a game behind Utah for the final playoff spot in the West, and have an easy enough schedule to fight their way back in. But the Jazz are playing well and the Rockets are not, and a couple losses soon might be the nail in the coffin for Houston’s WTF season.

The Matchup

This game doesn’t mean much to the Thunder practically, but the rivalry with the Rockets is real. The Thunder would relish in stamping out Houston’s playoff hopes.

Of course, we assume an angry, volatile game from Russ will materialize more often than not when he plays Patrick Beverley. Westbrook faltered in the Pistons game against another nemesis (Reggie Jackson), but that game was really more a product of Westbrook facing a handful of defenders while Durant sat than it was of Mad Russ channeling Bad Russ. He’ll be looking to set up his teammates and play the all-around ball that he’s thrived at all season (which doesn’t hurt his chase for the triple-double record, conveniently).

Still, I’d be shocked if the Thunder don’t play down to the Rockets like they did to the Clippers a couple nights ago. The Rockets have everything to play for; the Thunder don’t. Houston should win this game at home. But I think they’ll find a way to lose.

Prediction: Thunder 121 Rockets 116


2015-16 NBA Season Game #
@
53-23
(Won 1)

37-39
(Lost 1)
April 3rd, 2015
Toyota Center, Houston, TX
2:30 PM Central Standard Time
TV: ABC
Injury Report: Sam Dekker (Out)
This Season's Matchups: Nov. 2 (L 105-110), Jan 29. (W 116-118), Mar. 22 (W 111-107)
Probable Starters
Russell Westbrook PG Patrick Beverley
Andre Roberson SG James Harden
Kevin Durant SF Trevor Ariza
Serge Ibaka PF Donatas Motiejunas
Steven Adams C Dwight Howard