Houston Rockets (36-33, 16-18 road) vs. Ok. City Thunder (42-27, 22-12 home)
Offensive Rating: Thunder – 107.1 (16th), Rockets – 107.1 (15th)
Defensive Rating: Thunder – 103.6 (7th), Rockets – 106.9 (14th)
Pace: Thunder – 93.0 (14th), Rockets – 93.8 (8th)
View from the enemy: Red 94
When you’re in a late season playoff push, it’s not really cliche to say every game, “THIS is the most important game of the season.” Because in a way it is. It’s not more important than the last, or the next or the next because when there’s just 13 games left, they’re all pretty big, but this one against Houston is certainly important. OKC’s magic number stands at eight right now over the Rockets. A win tonight moves that to six and also rights the ship for the “slumping” Thunder. So it’s big. Very big.
And there’s good news: Reinforcements are coming. James Harden is available to play and that greatly helps the Thunder cause. It comes at a needed time as OKC’s bench has slipped recently and the team has gone 1-3 in its last four. A game of this magnitude is going to need any and all help. It’s not just big because it’s against Houston and the Rockets are closing in on eighth, but because the Thunder needs to restore some confidence in both themselves and the fanbase.
Houston coming in: The Rockets have won five of seven, but have lost two of their last three. They’re not great on the road at 16-18 and but are 6-4 in their last 10. They last played Monday.
Not to celebrate an injury, but thank goodness there’s no Shane Battier. He does an exceptional job of guarding Kevin Durant, so with him out with an injury, that’ll help. Trevor Arizais a long defender and will certainly do a solid job defending KD, but the last few times Ariza and Battier have been able to tag team it. And that won’t happen tonight.
Luis Scola is a Thunder killer inside because he’s strong on the block and has a nice face-up game from 12 feet. Jeff Green will need to play a good, physical game to match him. Chuck Hayesis a rock on the block and was a big reason Houston grabbed some 200 offensive rebounds the last time these teams met in the Ford Center. But that was pre-Ibaka, in terms of Serge Ibakaplaying big minutes. But inside, Ibaka and Nick Collison will definitely play some vital minutes.
Aaron Brooks is the offensive catalyst for the Rockets and as he goes, so does Houston. Russell Westbrookneeds to return to his old self because this is a big matchup. Kevin Martin is a good scorer and can shoot, but Thabo has done a quality job on him in the past. A lot of this game will come down to bench production, something that has been strengthened for OKC with James Harden’s return.
As we all know, this is an important game for a host of reasons. I feel tentatively good about it because OKC got back to solid defensive fundamentals against San Antonio and more importantly, the Thunder’s due.
Tip at 7:00 PM. Go Please, PLEASE Win.