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Thunder vs Rockets preview and gamethread: 3 things to watch as OKC looks to shut down Harden

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The Thunder are working for a #2 seed, but the Rockets still stand in their way.

NBA: Oklahoma City Thunder at Houston Rockets Erik Williams-USA TODAY Sports

Game: Oklahoma City Thunder @ Houston Rockets

Time: 7:30CST

Location: Toyota Center, Houston

Broadcast: ABC

Counterpart: The Dream Shake


The Thunder head to Houston tonight for their third matchup of the year with the Rockets. Here are three things to watch in this possible playoff preview:

1. MVP?

For the second time in 3 years, the Rockets and Thunder both feature MVP candidates. However rather than former teammates Russell Westbrook and James Harden, it is Harden and Paul George, who has built his case with a ridiculous tear. Since the last time these teams faced off on Christmas Day, George has averaged 31 points a game on 44.5% shooting, including 43% from 3 on 10 attempts per game, to go along with 7 rebounds, 3.5 assists, and a league leading 2.6 steals. Those are impressive, MVP level numbers- but of course, they pale next to Harden’s ridiculous statistical resume- 42.5 point per game over that same stretch, along with 8 rebounds and 7 assists.

If George has a case over Harden and his video game numbers for MVP, it’s his defensive contributions- George has a realistic case for Defensive Player of the Year as well as MVP. George and his teammates did a decent job against Harden last time out- he finished with 41 points, but on a ridiculous 35 shots — far less efficiency than Harden has enjoyed for most of the season. George will need to hound Harden into another tough night and continue his own excellent scoring for OKC to take this one. That’s a tall order, but hey, he’s an MVP Candidate.

2. Which point guard plays like the best version of himself?

Russell Westbrook and Chris Paul have both had up and down seasons- Westbrook has struggled shooting the ball, and Paul has missed huge chunks with injury. Recently Westbrook has been playing his best ball of the season. Over the last 5 games, he’s averaged more assists (15) than shot attempts (14), leaning into full playmaking mode and not forcing many shots. That has resulted in him shooting a higher percentage (43.7%) from the field as well. This version of Russ is the version OKC will need to make a deep playoff run.

Paul, meanwhile, was struggling with his shooting even before his injury and will obviously need time to fully recover. The Rockets will need him to give some variance to their attack instead of relying entirely on Harden’s the playoffs approach. How well Paul plays will be a bellwether for this team.

3. Return of the Shump

For the rest of the league, Houston’s acquisition of Iman Shumpert wasn’t too big of a deal. He’s a nice player, a guy who can credibly defend multiple positions and shoot 3’s, exactly the kind of semi-anonymous guard Houston wants to slot on the perimeter around Harden.

But this season, Shumpert has been dynamite against OKC, going on ridiculous scoring binges in 2 of Sacramento’s 3 games against the Thunder. Can Shump pull out his Michael Jordan impression again with his new squad?


Who do you think will win tonight?

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  • 77%
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