- When: Tuesday, 11 March 2014 at 7:00 PM CST
- Where: Chesapeake Energy Arena, Oklahoma City, OK
There are so many narratives to this game, I’m just going to bullet point every one of them:
- Russell Westbrook vs. Patrick Beverly – When Oklahoma City fans look at Beverly, we see the franchise’s mortality in the balance, at least for this core group of players (Durant, Westbrook, Ibaka, Perkins, Sefolosha, Collison). Everything was going great for the first 5 seasons in OKC (steady progression, draft picks working out, player development, and, most importantly, health). But that all came crashing down on April 25, 2013, when Westbrook had to go under the knife for a meniscus tear suffered the night before. The tear, caused by Beverly’s reckless attempt at stealing the ball as Westbrook was calling for a routine ‘across the timeline’ timeout, caused the Thunder, who were considered to be title contenders, to flame out in the 2nd round of the playoffs.
This will be the first meeting between Westbrook and Beverly since the knee injury in last season’s playoffs. I would not expect any retaliation from Westbrook, as he has stated time and time again that he has no issues with Beverly personally. But OKC fans remember, everytime they see Beverly, that this is the man that not only crashed into Westbrook’s knee, but also, possibly, crashed into the Thunder’s chance at winning a title in the future.
- Perimeter defense – If the Thunder continue with the same issues they had with the Los Angeles Lakers and the Phoenix Suns, then they might be in for a long night against the Rockets. While those other teams had great 3-point shooters and good dribble-penetrators, the Rockets add another wrinkle to that mix: Dwight Howard. None of those teams had the inside presence that the Rockets have. Add to that the fact that our “Dwight-stopper” is currently out with injury, and that could possibly compound the situation.
Remember, the Rockets did hang 73 on the Thunder in one half in their last game. In that half, they made 11 three-pointers (8 in the 2nd quarter). That 2nd quarter was very reminiscent to what happened to the Thunder in the last two 3rd quarters. In those 3 quarters, the Thunder gave up an average of 39 points, which can be a back breaker that can be very difficult to come back from. The good news from that last Rockets’ game was what happened in the 2nd half. The Thunder buckled down on defense and allowed the Rockets to score only 19 points for the entire 2nd half. They will need to find some sort of middle ground to balance themselves out.
- Rumors of selfishness – If there is one that thing has never really surfaced in the first 5 1/2 seasons of Thunder basketball, it’s rumors of selfishness. Now, athletes are selfish in nature to begin with. But there has never been any rumblings of selfishness affecting the Thunder’s culture and their play on the court. That came to a head in recent days, with Darnell Mayberry of the Oklahoman writing:
This team is no longer playing for each other. Too many guys have different agendas. Too many are doing their own thing. Too many are playing for the wrong reasons. Kevin Durant is gunning for his first most valuable player award. Reggie Jackson is playing for a lucrative extension this summer.Russell Westbrook is working himself back into shape. It’s selfish basketball, the kind we’ve rarely seen take shape in OKC. It doesn’t define all 48 minutes. But it’s seen in stretches. Far too many of them.
In addition, interviews in the last couple of days with Nick Collison and Derek Fisher, two of the elder statesmen of the team, don’t exactly ooze with words of team chemistry and kumbaya. This could just simply be a bump in the road or it could be more. It will be very interesting to see how the team responds tonight as they play one of their chief rivals in the conference.
- James Harden – He’s coming to town once again. Nuff said.
Probable Starting Line-ups
- PG – Patrick Beverly
- SG – James Harden
- SF – Chandler Parsons
- PF – Terrence Jones
- C – Dwight Howard
Oklahoma City Thunder
- PG – Russell Westbrook
- SG – Perry Jones III
- SF – Kevin Durant
- PF – Serge Ibaka
- C – Steven Adams
3 Keys to the Game
Turnovers – Houston is a team that feasts on turnovers. They have an extremely athletic team that can turn and run on a dime. They usually have 3 capable ball handlers on the floor at all times. If the Thunder can limit the turnovers, then it’ll limit the opportunities the Rockets have on the offensive end of the floor.
Defending the paint – In the last 2 games, the Thunder have given up 92 points in the paint! Also, the Suns and Lakers combined to take 69 free throws. Add those two things up and what does it equal??? Crappy defense. The perimeter players are playing the vaunted Ole’ defense, while the post players are either too slow on their rotations or hacking the drivers to send them to the line.
Stopping Runs – The Thunder’s defense the last two games hasn’t necessarily been horrible for the full 48 minutes. Where they’ve suffered has been in stopping runs, especially when a team/player gets hot from the perimeter. Houston has a handful of players that can get scorching hot from the perimeter.