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Game of the Night: Houston Rockets Vs. Oklahoma City Thunder

The NBA is in the fourth and final quarter of it’s regular season and the Western Conference playoff push is starting to heat up. Tuesday night features a key game between two of the conference’s top teams as the Houston Rockets travel to Oklahoma City to take on the Thunder.

Apr 24, 2013; Oklahoma City, OK, USA; Houston Rockets guard James Harden (13) talks with Oklahoma City Thunder forward Kevin Durant in the second half during game two of the first round of the 2013 NBA Playoffs at Chesapeake Energy Arena. Mandatory Credit: Mark D. Smith-USA TODAY Sports

The Thunder (46-17), who have led the Western Conference for most of the year, have lost two straight games and find themselves in second place in the conference, .5 games behind the San Antonio Spurs. The Rockets (44-19), on the other hand, are the hottest team in the NBA. They have won five consecutive games and also hold a 23-8 record since January 1, the best in the league. While one team is looking to get back on track, the other is trying to move up in the conference standings.

The past two losses for the Thunder, to the Phoenix Suns and Los Angeles Lakers, were both road games where they lost by six and four points, respectively and allowed for one opposing player to score over 40 points in each game (Gerald Green had 41 for the Suns and Jodie Meeks had 42 for the Lakers). In those two games, Thunder opponents have averaged 121 points per game on 49.6 percent shooting from the field and 48 percent from three-point range. The offense hasn’t been the problem, as the Thunder have scored 116 points per game while shooting 45.7 percent from the field. Kevin Durant and Russell Westbrook are also playing well during the two game losing streak. Durant is averaging 30.5 points and Westbrook is averaging 29 points. Despite this, the Thunder are 3-5 since Westbrook returned to the lineup after knee surgery.

The hot Rockets squeaked out a close victory against the Portland Trail Blazers on Sunday in overtime, 118-113. James Harden has been on fire of late, as he scored 41 points Sunday night and is averaging 28.2 points on 51.6 percent shooting, 7.4 assists, 5.8 rebounds and 2.6 steals in March (five games). As a team in March, the Rockets are 5-0 and scoring 111 points per game on 48.9 percent shooting. Dwight Howard has also been playing efficient basketball this month, scoring 18 points on 60.4 percent shooting.

These two teams have met twice this year and the Thunder have come out on top both times by an average margin of victory of 21.5 points. This will be the first time Westbrook plays in this matchup this season, but the Thunder didn’t miss a beat without him. They have averaged 110.5 points on 51.8 percent shooting from the field against the Rockets, while holding the boys from Houston to just 38 percent shooting from the field. Durant has scored 34.5 points per game in these match ups while James Harden has been held in check by his former team, averaging just 12 points per game on just 32 percent shooting.

The Pick: The Thunder seem to have the upper hand on the Rockets this season, but this is a different Houston team that is playing their best basketball of the season. Three of their five March wins have come against some of the league’s top teams (Miami, Indiana and Portland) while the Thunder just lost to the lowly Lakers. Even though it is a road game, the Rockets are on a mission and I think they finally grab a win from the Thunder in a close one, 103-100.

When: 8:00 p.m. ET

Where: Chesapeake Energy Arena, Oklahoma City, Oklahoma

Television: NBATV

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Houston, We Have Lift-Off: A Breakdown Of The Rockets’ Pick-And-Roll

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Out of the 30 teams in the Association, less than a handful run the pick-and-roll as well as the Houston Rockets do. A lot of that has to do with the deadly combination of James Harden and Dwight Howard, as well as their mix of perimeter shooters, such as Chandler Parsons, Patrick Beverley and Francisco Garcia.

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Game of the Night: New York Knicks Vs. Houston Rockets

Credit: Brad Penner-USA TODAY Sports

Seven games are on the slate for Friday night, but none will be more entertaining than the matchup between the New York Knicks and Houston Rockets. While the Los Angeles Clippers vs. Dallas Mavericks contest should be exciting as well, it will be interesting to see how the Knicks respond after their biggest win of the season against another top Western Conference team. New York defeated the San Antonio Spurs 105-101 on Thursday night.

The Knicks finally eclipsed double digit wins after Thursday’s thrilling victory. The disappointing 10-21 squad received a career-high 27 points from Iman Shumpert, contributing 6 rebounds and 3 steals as well. Carmelo Anthony recorded a double-double, dropping 27 points and adding 12 rebounds.

“The effort level was very high, the energy level was very high,” Anthony said. “We played like we wanted this game.”

Anthony leads his squad in points (26.8 per game, third in the league) and rebounds (8.9) while Raymond Felton (injured, groin) dishes out a team-high 5.1 assists.

The Rockets are searching for consistency. They split the sixteen contests played in the month of December, never winning more than three in a row and never losing more than back-to-back games. In those wins, Houston outscored their opponents by an average of 12.2 points, while losing by 14 points.

“We’ve played some poor games…,” coach Kevin McHale said Tuesday. “It doesn’t feel like we’re in much of a rhythm.”

Shumpert will likely have to guard James Harden, who is fifth in the league in scoring, pouring in 24 points per contest. In his last four games, however, the 24-year-old is scoring 30.3 points, shooting 53.2 percent from the field.

Dwight Howard leads the team in rebounds per contest (13.1, third in the league), blocks (1.8) and field goal percentage (58.1) while Harden records a team-high 5.2 assists per game.

In their meeting at Madison Square Garden on November 14, Houston bested New York 109-106, despite 45 points from Anthony.

The Pick:

While the Rockets are an impressive 13-5 at home to the Knicks’ 6-9 record on the road, New York will build on their performance against the Spurs and upset Houston at the Toyota Center behind another big night from ‘Melo.

Knicks, 107 – Rockets, 103

National TV: NBA TV

Time: 8:00 P.M. ET

 

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