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Houston Rockets @ Oklahoma City Thunder 3/11/14: feat. Royce Young of Daily Thunder

Teams: Houston Rockets (44-19) @ Oklahoma City Thunder (46-17)
Time: 8:00 p.m. ET
Venue: Chesapeake Energy Arena
Television: NBA TV

Notes:

  • The Thunder beat the Rockets in the first two matchups of the season, and an OKC win tonight would secure the head-to-head tiebreaker for playoff seeding.
  • In the first game, James Harden and Dwight Howard combined for 17 points on 6-22 shooting, as Houston lost 117-86.
  • As for the second game, well….  The Rockets set the record for the largest scoring differential between two halves.  Houston led by 14 going into the half after scoring 73 points, with 12 3-pointers.  The Rockets didn’t hit another three the rest of the way and scored only 19 points in the second half, eventually losing 104-92.
  • Russell Westbrook missed both contests against Houston so far this season, but Kevin Durant picked up the slack: 34.5 ppg on 50%FG, 42%3pt and 90%FT shooting, with 9 rpg and 6 apg.
  • In the their last two games (both losses), the Thunder have given-up career high’s in scoring to opposing shooting guards Gerald Green (41 points) of the Suns and Jodie Meeks (42 points) of the Lakers.  Both players made more than half of their threes and got to the line a combined 25 times.

Injuries: Patrick Beverley is listed on the injury report, but will continue to play with his broken nose.  He sustained the injury against the Orlando Magic on March 5th.

The Thunder will be without Kendrick Perkins (groin), Thabo Sefolosha (calf) and Caron Butler (undisclosed).

Insider’s View – Q&A with Royce Young of Daily Thunder

Follow Royce on Twitter @RoyceYoung.

MF – As much as I hate to beat a dead horse, you can’t talk Rockets-Thunder and not mention James Harden.  During the Rockets-Pacers broadcast last Friday, Jeff Van Gundy said that he didn’t think the Thunder, Rockets or even Harden himself believed that he would be this good as the lead-guy.  Do you think the Thunder felt like they were losing this quality of player when they made the trade?  And, do you think they would do things differently if given another chance?

RY – Oh, the Thunder absolutely knew Harden was this good. I think everyone was a bit curious as to if he could pull all of this talent out and do it as the primary scorer, but there’s no question that the Thunder knew he had the ability to be a premier player. They knew what they were giving up when they traded Harden, but remember: He was never going to have the kind of role he has in Houston with the Thunder. He was always going to have to split possessions three ways, so while he had this kind of talent in OKC, it was just going to be limited.

But no, I don’t think the Thunder would do anything differently based on what they’ve seen from Harden. Hindsight being what it is, maybe they would’ve searched for a better trade, but people forget, at the time, Harden’s trade value was significantly lower. He had just performed poorly in the Finals, and many weren’t sold on him as the featured player. But the Thunder don’t regret trading Harden. That doesn’t necessarily mean it was the right move, though.

Russell Westbrook has missed both matchups against Houston this season after a collision with Patrick Beverley in the first round of the playoffs last season caused him to tear his meniscus.  As far as you can gather, does he harbor any ill-feelings about that play?  Do you expect anything more than his typical near-maniacal intensity in their first meeting since the injury?

Oh, there’s no question in my mind Westbrook holds a grudge against Beverley. No doubt. But I don’t think he’ll necessarily play any differently because of it. But he doesn’t like Beverley one bit.

Speaking of Westbrook, he takes a lot of flak for his style of play and it has been one of the main talking points when evaluating the Thunder’s paltry 3-5 record since his return from knee surgery.  Has he really thrown off the Thunder’s rhythm that much, or have there been other issues during this recent stretch?

It really hasn’t been Westbrook. It’s been the slack in defense. The Thunder are allowing 108.3 points per 100 possessions since the All-Star break, giving up career-highs to players like Gerald Green and Jodie Meeks. Westbrook hasn’t helped the cause much defensively, but it’s a larger issue of trying to reintegrate him, while also playing without two other starters (Thabo Sefolosha and Kendrick Perkins).

Westbrook’s return to the lineup also coincided with Kendrick Perkins’ groin injury and subsequent surgery.  The Thunder have struggled to win games since Perkins went down, but two of the their three wins have come against Charlotte and Memphis; teams with above-average-to-very-good big men in Al Jefferson and Marc Gasol.  The consensus has been for some time that the Thunder play better in smaller lineups, but is Perkins’ absence playing a part in their recent struggles?

That’s a good question, which is what makes this matchup with Dwight Howard so intriguing. Perk has always done a terrific job on Howard, but can Steven Adams handle him, and not commit six fouls in four minutes? You’re right; the Thunder have won without Perk against teams where he’s supposedly valuable. It’s not really him they miss so much right now, as it is Sefolosha.

True or False: If the season ended today, Kevin Durant would be the MVP.

True. He’s got the numbers, and he’s got the narrative. Putting up a ridiculous scoring average and PER, and he carried his team while Westbrook was out. It’s his to lose.

 

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