Some say the All-Star weekend has no effect on the regular season, but the Oklahoma City Thunder hope they’re wrong, after both Kevin Durant and Russell Westbrook had big games in the same arena they’ll be playing in once again, this time facing the Houston Rockets.
For a team that wins as much as the Thunder do (39-14, second in the West), two consecutive losses is as close to a crisis as you’re going to get. The fact that one of those losses came against the Miami Heat, at home, in a game the champions completely dominated from top to bottom is slightly worrying but in general, the Thunder have always come back stronger after a loss or two, which usually is followed by a lot of Westbrook criticism.
Kevin Durant has scored 36.5 points per game in those two losses, but most of his 40 points against the Heat came in garbage time. Going for his fourth consecutive scoring title, Durant also needs to watch out his temper which has hurt him and his team this season, picking up more technical than all but one player in the NBA this season. What Durant doesn’t have to worry about is his ability against the Rockets.
There’s been an extra layer of flavor to the Thunder – Rockets games this season because of the trade that sent James Harden to Houston, immediately turning them into a playoff caliber team, but not one good enough to wrestle with the best of ’em, losing by a combined 52 points in the previous two games against the Thunder, in which Durant averaged 31.5 points per game.
The Rockets are about one man, and one man only, James Harden. Not just his ability to score (averaging 26.1 points per game, 5th in the NBA) but about his ability to distribute the ball and take advantage of the spacing and movement which has really improved on the Houston offense over the last six weeks, following a 7 game losing streak.
Prediction – The Rockets have been hot at home lately, but their defense can’t keep up with the pace the Thunder play at when they get hot early. Unless Harden erupts for one of a career-best night (or something along that line), it’s going to be another win for the Thunder against their former sixth man.