For the second time this season, the Houston Rockets will play the Oklahoma City Thunder. This matchup has always been fun to watch as both teams play a similar style of play, and with the friendship fueled rivalry between former Thunder guard James Harden and league scoring leader Kevin Durant always at the forefront, it makes for an great storyline.
Last time these two teams played, the Thunder blew the Rockets out by 31 points. They shot efficiently and were able to slow down the Rockets’ high octane offense. Harden and Dwight Howard, the franchise’s biggest acquisitions the last two offseasons, combined for 17 points on 6-of-22 from the field. Needless to say, the Rockets will need more from the faces of their franchise tonight.
The Rockets need to play more physical tonight. They were bullied on both ends of the floor and will need reverse that trend in their favor. Look for them to get Howard involved early, as well as Harden getting into the paint. That will then open the floor for Chandler Parsons and Jeremy Lin to get creative with their offense. Defensively, they will have to limit penetration. With most of the focus on Durant, they cannot allow Reggie Jackson to have his way in the paint. With Lin defending him, emphasis must be placed on help rotation. The Thunder have enough of an offensive liability in Kendrick Perkins to warrant some double teams in the rotation.
The Thunder, still struggling through Russell Westbrook’s absence, are looking to reach an even .500 record in January (3-4) with a victory tonight. Durant will carry most of the load offensively. Look for him to take about 25 shots. What will be important is how Jackson exploits his mismatch at the point. Neither Lin nor Aaron Brooks can prevent his penetration so his dribble drive will be a focal point for the Thunder offense. If he can draw Howard out from under the basket, that will clear the paint for Durant and Serge Ibaka. Ibaka will have to play an important role as he the Thunder are short of a consistent third scorer. He’s played that role in the past so it should not be too much to demand of him. More importantly, Jeremy Lamb will have to continue his solid three point contributions. Success from beyond the arc, combined with Jackson’s penetration will leave the floor wide open for the league’s leading scorer Durant (29.8 ppg).
Keys to Victory:
Offense: Dominate the paint with Howard early
Defense: Limit penetration, play physical
X Factor: Chandler Parsons, and however he can contribute defensively, guarding Durant
Offense: Exploit mismatch at point guard, spread the floor
Defense: Clog the paint, force Harden to shoot
X Factor: Bench, With Reggie Jackson starting, the Thunder lose primary second unit scorer. The bench play will have an impact on how much is required of Kevin Durant.