OKLAHOMA CITY THUNDER (21-15)
at HOUSTON ROCKETS (27-9)
Tip-off: Thursday, 8:05 p.m. ET
Line: Houston -9.0, Total: 225.0
The Rockets will be going for their sixth straight win when they host Russell Westbrook and the Thunder on Thursday.
The Thunder are struggling right now, as their loss to the Hornets on Wednesday was their third loss in the past four games. Theyíll likely be a bit tired in Houston on Thursday, as this is their third road game in the past four days. These teams have already met twice on the year and the teams split wins, but the Rockets covered in both contests. They also happened to be playing in Oklahoma City in each of those games. Houston is extremely hot coming into this game as well. The Rockets have won five straight games and 16 of their past 18. Theyíre also incredible against the spread this season, as they are 24-12 ATS on the year. One trend favoring the Thunder in this game is the fact that they are 18-8 ATS revenging a same season loss versus an opponent over the past two seasons. They are, however, facing a Rockets team that is 7-0 ATS as a home favorite of 6.5 to 12 points this season. Oklahoma City also happens to be a lousy 1-10 ATS on the road in January since last season. PG Cameron Payne (Foot) remains out indefinitely for the Thunder, and PG Patrick Beverley (Wrist) is listed as probable for the Rockets on Thursday.
The Thunder like to get up and down the floor, as evidenced by their 97.4 estimated possessions per game (10th in NBA). They will not, however, be able to outrun the Rockets, as Houston plays even faster at 98.4 (4th in NBA). The Rockets are also third in the league in offensive efficiency, so a track meet is not going to benefit Oklahoma City. One way the Thunder can win this game is by PG Russell Westbrook (30.9 PPG, 10.5 APG, 10.5 RPG, 1.4 SPG) outplaying James Harden. In two meetings with the Rockets this season, Westbrook is averaging 28.5 PPG, 9.5 APG, 8.5 RPG and 2.5 SPG in 36.0 MPG. That might seem incredible, but he is actually averaging more on the season and shot only 37.8% from the floor in those two contests. He is making 42.4% of his shots this season, so there is definitely room for him to improve. Heíd be wise to take the ball to the rim as often as he can on Thursday, as the Rockets are without Clint Capela in this one. The absence of Capela should also help both Cs Steven Adams (12.2 PPG, 7.8 RPG) and Enes Kanter (13.6 PPG, 6.1 RPG). Kanter has played some outstanding basketball for the Thunder lately, scoring 19 or more points in four of the past five games. Heíll need to be ready to play well on Thursday. SG Victor Oladipo (16.2 PPG, 4.4 RPG) is going to be the x-factor for Oklahoma City, though. He needs to do a solid job guarding Harden or this game will be a blowout.
Although members of the media are having trouble realizing that SG James Harden (28.4 PPG, 11.9 APG, 8.2 RPG, 1.4 SPG) should be the NBAís MVP this season, itís really not even a debate. Harden has been the best player in basketball, by far, and has led a rather mediocre group of supporting players to a 27-9 record thus far. Harden also happens to be on fire coming into this game, averaging 34.4 PPG, 12.0 APG and 9.8 RPG over the past five contests. The Rockets will put him in a ton of pick-and-roll situations on Thursday, and itís likely that heíll pick apart the Thunder in this one. He is averaging only 17.0 PPG on 25.6% shooting against Oklahoma City in two meetings this season, and he is far too good of a player to have a third bad game in a row. The guy thatíll be playing the role of Hardenís wingman is SG Eric Gordon (17.7 PPG). Gordon is having one of the best seasons of his career under head coach Mike DíAntoni, as he is having his third-best scoring season and is doing it efficiently. Gordon is an absolute sniper from the outside, as evidenced by his 42.8% shooting on 8.8 attempts per game, and itís likely heíll get hot at some point on Thursday. Defensively, itíll be a group effort to contain Westbrook but as long as nobody else is going off for Oklahoma City then the Rockets should win easily.