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Oklahoma City Thunder vs. Houston Rockets game two preview, odds, and prediction

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After a humbling game-one setback, will Billy Donovan and OKC adjust vs. Houston?

Oklahoma City Thunder v Houston Rockets - Game One Photo by Bob Levey/Getty Images

Following a 31-point series opening defeat to the Houston Rockets, entering tonight’s game 2, genuine urgency surrounds Oklahoma City Thunder basketball.

"The turning point was not an exact moment, but offensive rebounds and second-chance points was what really killed us. The bigs, especially me, played trash on the reads, and the pick-and-rolls were absolute garbage. We have to get back to the drawing board."

And thus with trademark candor, Thunder anchor Steven Adams illustrated his team’s game one bane vs. Houston. Meanwhile, OKC’s remaining pratfalls could be largely attributed to Westbrook and Oladipo shooting 7-35 overall.

Naturally, for Oklahoma City to re-establish competitive stead opposite their explosive opening-round foe, extensive strategy adjustment is required.

Though, faced with an array of knock-down shooters, unquestionably, the main objective for OKC is finding ways to limit Houston’s starting backcourt.

Sunday, MVP-candidate James Harden highlighted his destructive opening-salvo with 37 PTS, 9 REBS, and 7 ASTS. Meanwhile, in addition to dogging Westbrook (6-23 FG 9 TOV), Beverley (21 PTS, 10 REBS) became an omnipresent hitch toward Oklahoma City’s initial plane of attack.

Assuredly, in confidential preparations for OKC, Mike D’Antoni underscored the tenet that removing the head (Westbrook) incapacitates the body.

And, throughout a disquieting opener, with Westbrook excised, Oklahoma City sustained repeated body blows, until Houston overwhelmed the Thunder underneath.

Known for bruising interior play, and a league-best rebounding mark, Billy Donovan’s men ceded a decisive +15 rebounding and +24 points-in-the-paint edge to perimeter-minded Houston.

Finally, as his supporting cast percolated, savvy Harden frequently exploited OKC’s pick-and-roll switches with calculating precision. The former Thunder turned Rockets franchise-player summed his performance with this post-game quote:

"As a point guard I have to try to find ways to split the defense. They're switching with the big [man] and taking our 3-pointers away, so I just tried to get to the basket."

Having dropped four straight opposite Houston, during tonight’s game two from the Toyota Center, Oklahoma City endeavors to commandeer home-court advantage and resuscitate an upset bid.

OKLAHOMA CITY THUNDER (0-1) VS. HOUSTON ROCKETS (1-0)

  • Time: 8 PM ET
  • Venue: Toyota Center
  • TV: TNT, FSOK

OKLAHOMA CITY THUNDER KEYS TO VICTORY

  • Alter pick-and-roll defense: Game one’s strategy to switch proved disastrous. Tonight, perhaps a mixture of defensive stunts, featuring traps to take the ball out of Harden’s hands, can at least force Houston to think offensively instead of scoring axiomatically.
  • Give an effort on the glass: While OKC led the NBA in rpg, Houston finished a respectable eighth. However, it seems that Oklahoma City struggles to box out the Rockets’ quick, and aggressive bigs such as Nene and Clint Capela. Meanwhile, Houston’s perimeter players sneak in and grab rebounds due to relentlessly attacking the angles and simply outworking OKC’s guards. The Thunder must mitigate this by utilizing intelligent box-out positioning.
  • Limit second-chance points: This is a direct corollary of utilizing intelligent box-out positioning. There is little excuse for the NBA’s top-rebounding unit to be outworked 14-7 on the offensive glass, and outscored 31-4 in second-chance points by any opponent.
  • Limit Houston free throws: This is a pre-requisite vs. Houston.
  • Run Houston off the three-point line: This too is a pre-requisite vs. Houston.
  • Ball movement: OKC’s stagnant offense might benefit from a steady dose of ball movement. Instead of simply employing one-dimensional offensive sets, it is incumbent upon Donovan to keep Houston’s defense guessing during each vital possession.

OKLAHOMA CITY THUNDER

To avoid a fifth-consecutive setback to this multi-faceted Houston team, at a minimum, Oklahoma City must exploit their size advantage by crashing the glass and pressuring the Rockets’ interior defense with forceful inside play.

For this game-plan to thrive, on the reset, OKC must also must knock down outside shots and find free-throw opportunities. Attacking Harden is a great place to start. Further, OKC might benefit by taking a page from D’Antoni’s book and screening pesky Beverley off Westbrook.

Given the circumstances, this evening’s affair will prove the greatest challenge to Billy Donovan’s coaching ability. Hopefully, Donovan can effectively shift pieces as he did vs. SAS last spring.

HOUSTON ROCKETS

Houston will arrive tonight expecting Oklahoma City’s best effort. And to heighten this factor, James Harden will aim to seriously hinder the post-season ambitions of his drafting franchise that dealt him five years prior.

In addition, knowing that OKC struggles away from home, an already synced Rockets offense will have the luxury of performing freely before a raucous Toyota Center crowd.

Though not an elimination contest, a loss tonight places Oklahoma City within deep waters.

PROJECTED STARTING LINEUPS AND INJURY REPORTS

The Oklahoma City Thunder have no injuries to report. The Houston Rockets list Sam Dekker (hand) as out vs. Oklahoma City.

OKLAHOMA CITY THUNDER

  • Point Guard: Russell Westbrook
  • Shooting Guard: Victor Oladipo
  • Small Forward: Andre Roberson
  • Power Forward: Taj Gibson
  • Center: Steven Adams

HOUSTON ROCKETS

  • Point Guard: James Harden
  • Shooting Guard: Patrick Beverley
  • Small Forward: Trevor Ariza
  • Power Forward: Ryan Anderson
  • Center: Clint Capela

ODDS

OKLAHOMA CITY THUNDER: +7.5

Versus Houston, Oklahoma City enters its season’s most important outing as a considerable underdog.

While, in the interim, much discourse has chronicled the manner by which the Rockets cruised to a decisive game one win. And this is understandable. Because tonight, for Oklahoma City to remain competitive, every ounce of the visitor’s intensity, and toughness, must be left on Houston’s home floor.

That stated, tonight’s key matchup pits Oklahoma City’s inner reserve vs. Houston’s.