Game 72 Preview - Rockets

Tip-Off: 2:30 PM CDT

Location: Toyota Center (Houston, TX)

Television: ABC

Radio: The Sports Animal

Twitter: Follow @TheThunderGuys for live-tweets during the game

Player to Watch

G James Harden is seriously threatening Russell Westbrook’s chance at winning NBA MVP and with good reason. Harden is having a monster season, averaging 29.5 points (2nd in the NBA behind Westbrook) while shooting 44.7% from the field, 35.4% from three, and 84.8% from the free throw line to go along with 11.3 assists (1st in the NBA) and 8.0 rebounds (3rd in the NBA among guards). Harden is not just a great free throw shooter, but he gets to the charity stripe more than any other player in the league, slightly more often than even Westbrook.

While he is having an outstanding season, Harden has actually performed his worst consistently when facing the Thunder than he has against any other team this season. In three games against Oklahoma City, the Rockets have won twice, but Harden is averaging only 20.0 points while shooting 29.1% from the floor, 27.7% from three, and 79.3% from the free throw line to go along with 12.3 assists and 8.0 rebounds. Andre Roberson has proven time and time again this season that he deserves to be first team NBA All-Defense, and his abilities are obvious as he has locked up Harden all season long. Keeping Harden in check today will be Roberson’s priority and an absolute necessity if the Thunder want to leave Houston with a win.

Keys to the Game

  • Prioritize Perimeter Protection: The Rockets are mediocre when it comes to three-point accuracy, making 36.2% of their attempts from deep (15th in the league), but they lead the NBA in three-point attempts with 40.3, nearly 7 more attempts than the next highest team. In three games against the Rockets so far this season, the Thunder has done a decent job at defending the Rockets at the perimeter. Oklahoma City has held Houston to 33% shooting from three, but the Rockets have still managed to get up their shots, averaging 40.3 attempts per meeting. The Thunder has to focus on running the Rockets off of the three-point line, and if Houston does manage to get shots up, Oklahoma City has to contest them.
  •  Dominate and Defend Down Low: Oklahoma City has been a consistent force in the paint all season long, but Houston is not too shabby either. The Thunder has slightly better averages than the Rockets in most of the major statistical categories involving play down low, but Houston has fared well against Oklahoma City this season. In three matchups, the Thunder and the Rockets have been almost dead even in points in the paint, rebounding, and second-chance points. If Oklahoma City can manage to get a leg up in these categories, the Thunder will have a really good shot at beating the Rockets on the road.
  • Fully Focus on the Fast Break: Russell Westbrook loves to run the fast break, and in doing so, he has made the Thunder one of the most successful transition teams in the NBA. James Harden is not as fast as Westbrook, but he is also proficient in transition, and he has helped the Rockets to very similar success. Oklahoma City is 3rd in the league in fast break averaging 17.0 points per game, while Houston is 4th with 16.9. The Thunder is much better defensively in transition than the Rockets allowing opponents  only 11.1 fast break points per game (5th in the NBA), while Houston allows 13.8 fast break points per game (21st in the NBA). Despite Oklahoma City being more well-rounded in transition, the Rockets have outscored the Thunder 46-34 overall in fast break points through three games. Westbrook and the Thunder need to emphasize outperforming Harden and the Rockets in the fast break to get an advantage that they have struggled to get against Houston.

Article written by Zack Low. Follow @TheThunderGuys on Twitter and Instagram.