Game Preview: Houston Rockets vs Oklahoma City Thunder

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Following a victory over the New Orleans Pelicans, the Houston Rockets get ready for their Sunday matinee game against the Oklahoma City Thunder (the third game in their home stand). Having now won their last three games, and seven of their last 10, the Rockets sit at 50-22 and third in the West, with 10 games left to go. The leader in points, assists, and rebounds for the Rockets is none other than James Harden, averaging 29.5, 11.3 and 8, respectively. The Rockets currently rank 2nd in offensive rating, 15th in defensive rating, and 3rd in overall net rating.

The Thunder come into town following their 41st win of the season, a blowout victory over the Philadelphia 76ers, and down two games to one on the season series with the Rockets. Having now won six of their last ten, and four of their last five, the Thunder have moved up to the sixth seed in the West, and within striking range of fifth. The Thunder are led in scoring, assists, and rebounds by Russell Westbrook, who is averaging a triple double, if you didn't know, at 31.2 points, 10.4 assists, and 10.5 rebounds per game. The Thunder currently rank 16th in offensive rating, 10th in defensive rating, and 14th in net rating.

Starting Lineups

Late in the game against the Pelicans, Ryan Anderson sprained his ankle, and will not be able to play on Sunday. The Rockets will likely start James Harden at point guard, Patrick Beverley at shooting guard, Eric Gordon at small forward, Trevor Ariza at power forward, and Clint Capela at center to start the game, with Lou Williams playing the role of sixth man.

The Thunder are rested and healthy for Sunday's game, with no injuries reported on their roster. The Thunder will start Russell Westbrook at point guard, Victor Oladipo at shooting guard, Andre Roberson at small forward, Taj Gibson at power forward, and Steven Adams at center.

Three Things to Watch

  • Roberson Shines – Games like this are where Thunder swingman, Andre Roberson, shows why he's in the NBA, using his tenacity and long wingspan to contain the league's greatest offensive weapons, like James Harden. In the 3 games against the Thunder this season, Harden is averaging 'just' 20 points a game, but on an abysmal 29% from the field, in large part due to Roberson. Watch to see if Harden, who has been on a roll, averaging 33 points on an absurd 65.7 true shooting in March, is able to find a way to beat Roberson and get into the lane, opening up easy shots for himself and his teammates.

  • Defend the Glass – Since acquiring big man Taj Gibson at the trade deadline, the Thunder rank first in the league in offensive rebounding rate, generating extra possessions for Westbrook to wreak havoc on the opposition. The Rockets on the other hand, rank just 18th in defensive rebounding rate since the deadline, giving teams extra chances at scoring. Watch to see if the Rockets' bigs are able to contain the likes of Kanter, Adams, and Gibson, and not allow the Thunder to have multiple attempts to score.

  • MVP Statement – This is the last game the Rockets and James Harden have against one of the top MVP candidates this season, as Russell Westbrook comes into town. Sunday's game may be Harden's, or Westbrook's, best chance to sway undecided voters this late in the season, by having a dominate game and finishing with the win. Watch to see if the two probable leading MVP candidates step up their games, in order to cement their spot above the other.

Prediction and Tip-Off

The Rockets and Thunder are both rolling, each winning six of their last seven games, going into Sunday's game. Both teams will be playing hard, as the Rockets are looking to build momentum going into the playoffs, while the Thunder are clawing for position in the West, and I think it will lead to an exciting game. I believe the Rockets will pull out a close win, behind Harden's latest stretch of amazing play.

Tip-off will be at 2:30 P.M. Central Time in Houston on Sunday, March 26th. The game will be televised on ABC with the radio broadcast on Sports Talk 790-AM.

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