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Thunder vs Rockets preview and gamethread: Enemies closer — Westbrook and Harden square off on Christmas Day

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There’s no love lost between these two teams; with two players rampaging against the competition, which one will come out on top?

W. Bennett Berry

Game: Oklahoma City Thunder @ Houston Rockets

Time: 2PM CST

Location: Toyota Center, Houston

Broadcast: ABC

***

The Thunder head to Houston on Christmas Day to take on James Harden and the Rockets. A year after Harden won his first league MVP, he might be playing even better now, though the Rockets are still searching for the right mixture of offense, defense, and overall health.

The Thunder will face a version of the Rockets without starting point guard Chris Paul, and his absence has had a notable effect on how the Rockets perform. With him on the court, they resemble some shade of what they were last year. But without CP3, almost the entire offensive load falls on Harden’s shoulders and their margin for error shrinks precipitously.

The Thunder pride themselves on defense, but Harden is a different kind of opponent. He’s taking a ton of threes and making hay beyond the arc, good enough to power Houston to a record above .500. He’s been held to less than 20 points in a game only thrice, and one of those was in early November when OKC rattled him and Houston for a big win. The name of the game is keeping Harden off the free throw line, so it will be interesting to see who and how Billy Donovan throws at Harden to keep him off balance and out of the lane. But even then, expect to see a handful of over-emphatic gestures and protests on both sides as Harden works his Mickey Jay-level sleight of hand on the court.

On the other end of the court, Russell Westbrook seems to be finally rounding into form at least in terms of mobility, as he was able to repeatedly finish at the rim vs the Timberwolves, but his jump shot is still AWOL. The Thunder can withstand this shortcoming against a lot of teams, but he is going to have to hit some shots to keep the Rockets defense honest. If he can do that and avoid fouling out again, Paul George will be looking to send his best Christmas Day wishes to Houstonians. In the form of MAD HOLIDAY HOOP SKILLZ.

Here’s hoping we get a good one this Christmas Day, and if you feel inclined to tussle with the opposing fanbase for any reason, just remember Russ and James are buds, and everyone has a better time when dancing and merriment is involved.

Poll

Who do you think will get what they asked for Christmas?

This poll is closed

  • 69%
    Thunder
    (34 votes)
  • 30%
    Rockets
    (15 votes)
49 votes total Vote Now