Houston Rockets vs Oklahoma City Thunder – January 7, 2012 7:00PM

The gist: The Rockets face the Thunder once more on the back end of the home-and-home. Kyle Lowry was a scratch in last game (DNP – Coach’s Decision) and the misdemeanor battery charged by Infini Robinson against him negates every positive thing said about Lowry to start the season.

Key matchup: Goran Dragic vs Russell Westbrook

Both point guards played each other to a stalemate but something that stood out was Dragic’s empty turnover numbers in the stat sheet. On a night Houston was outshot 52% to 46% from the field, the least they could to was to protect the ball and have the opportunity to at least have more possessions come their way. If Dragic can coax Westbrook into chucking, all the better.

X-factor: Jonny Flynn

Granted, most of his 7-4-6 stat line (like Dragic, also 0 turnovers) came during garbage time, but he will be backing up Dragic and has to urgently show a semblance of being an NBA player in the 20-something minutes he will be playing.

Code Red: The Rockets, at 2-5, have gradually fallen all the way to the West’s worst heading into tonight’s game. Houston is evidently not tanking; the current composition simply cannot keep up with the elite squads in the league. Scola and Martin were held to a combined 23 points, a signal that they would be better off exposing guys like Patrick Patterson and Chandler Parsons more.

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Both Red94 fantasy leagues will be drafting tomorrow morning at 11AM CST

As the title states, both of our fantasy leagues will be holding their drafts tomorrow morning at 11AM CST.  Best of luck to all of you.

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Houston Rockets @ Oklahoma City Thunder – January 6, 2012 7:00PM

The gist: Both teams are trying to get off a two-game losing skid. The Thunder has been last spotted dropping a 103-93 affair against their division rival Blazers as Kevin Durant was limited to 19 points on 8/26 shooting.

Key matchup: Kevin Martin vs James Harden

The one-dimensional gunslinger takes on the jack-of-all trades. With Courtney Lee sidelined indefinitely, Martin is expected to log more minutes while being expected not to keep firing blanks, obviously a Catch-22 situation for a shooter like himself.

X-factor: Chandler Parsons

The rookie made heads turn when he placed Blake Griffin on the receiving end of the poster in the previous game. He posted a respectable 11-point, 8-rebound outing and should see significant minutes facing Serge Ibaka and Durant.

Code Red: The alarms have been escalated. The Rockets have yet to win on the road, going 0-4 in foreign territories. Only Milwaukee and Washington are as awful.

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3-on-3: Houston’s Staples Center Experience

The Rockets are coming off a 108-99 loss to the Lakers and a 117-89 dismantling at the hands of the Clippers. Our analysts assess the situation.

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Five Notes on a String: January 6th, 2012

  • I want to clarify: this upcoming declaration is not rooted in baseless, reactionary compulsions. After a couple of weeks of blistering basketball, I’m prepared to claim that I think the Portland Trailblazers look like the team to beat coming out of the Western Conference. In no other organization out West remains such a collection of roster depth, superstar-level talent, experienced and battle-tested coaching, infinitely rich ownership and a beyond healthy home-court advantage, and none of that even takes into account changes to the team’s general makeup that have pushed it over the edge from “possible contender” to “frontrunner” status this season. While the addition of Jamal Crawford may have seemed short-sighted to those of us NBA observers who knew all of his gunning, relentlessly frustrating limitations, the Blazers appeared well aware of the dynamism his long-range shooting and playmaking abilities would bring to this squad, one which seemed destined to cause damage in last year’s playoffs prior to a surprising exit at the hands of the soon-to-be-champion Dallas Mavericks. Bizarrely enough, the Mavs’ title team represents the ideal template for what Portland could do deep into this year’s abbreviated season: a pick-and-pop attack based around a dangerous outside shooter of a big man strong and large enough to punish any undersized defender that would dare take his post-up abilities for granted, surrounded by top-rate shooters (although, as Zach Lowe pointed out, taking an unhealthy amount of deep two-pointers) and a wing who can operate on the perimeter, on the block or gobbling up offensive rebounds. Given the addition of Kurt Thomas and Marcus Camby’s enduring presence in the middle, the parallels to Dallas’ miracle struggle toward the ring run through and throughout, except for a couple of key differences that are actually in Portland’s favor: speed and youth. While Dallas’ multi-pronged assault from the pick-and-roll came at other teams slowly and methodically, the Blazers, easily the slowest team in basketball throughout the Brandon Roy era, power the ball across the floor, playing at the league’s fourth-fastest pace in this short season (Dallas played the league’s 19th fastest pace last year and 10th in the playoffs). The replacement of Andre Miller with Raymond Felton has allowed the latter to test any opposing team’s transition defense when given an opportunity, of which he was spotted many by a seemingly step-slow Lakers D Thursday night. This change has given a team that had a solid, well grounded half-court attack a new offensive weapon that just might be the difference  between this campaign and past ones come postseason time. As for youth, Portland’s top eight players in terms of minutes played, outside of the two veteran centers Thomas and Camby, are all under the age of 32, and that number drops to 30 when X-factor Crawford is excised. The Blazers look like everything a title team should be: stout on defense, solid in the half-court and explosive on the break, with depth and a superstar capable of dragging them out of logjams. Don’t be surprised if this year’s Western Conference title runs through that noisy Rose Garden that America just saw bother the Los Angeles Lakers to no end.
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