By Randy Renner, Senior Writer
Two of the NBA’s hottest teams featuring two of the league’s top MVP candidates get together tonight inside what should be a raucous Chesapeake Energy Arena.
The Houston Rockets who’ve won four straight and eight of their last 10 take on the Thunder, winners of six straight and seven of their last 10.
Toss in Russell Westbrook’s streak of six straight triple-doubles and the presence of Patrick Beverley who remains (despite Kevin Durant’s move to Golden State) OKC’s public enemy number one because of his hit on Westbrook’s knee that knocked Russ out of action for months and ruined the Thunder’s shot a championship in the spring of 2014 and you’ve got the makings for a dandy.
“They’re evolving and getting better and I would hope that we’re doing the same thing,” said head coach Billy Donovan after Thursday’s practice. “We’re evolving, we’re getting better and we’re improving.”
The Thunder outlasted the Rockets 105-103 on November 16th when Andre Roberson held Harden to just 13 points on 4-for-16 shooting overall and 1-for-5 on threes. Harden also turned the ball over six times that night.
This time Roberson figures Harden will try some different things and so will he.
“Definitely, you go back to the film and he’s gonna see where we kinda messed up and mis-communicated and he’s gonna try to take more advantage of that and those are the areas we kinda need to clean up. That’s some of what we’ve been working on in practice...it’s all about adjustments.”
Roberson has gone up against Harden several times and studied his moves on film and looked for any subtle changes he’s made from game to game. One thing Harden loves to do is try to bait defenders into fouling him and it works more often than it doesn’t.
In last month’s game Roberson didn’t bite and was whistled only twice for fouls. Harden took only seven free throws and missed three of them.
“You gotta realize why he’s doing those moves,” Roberson said. “He’s trying to draw fouls so the best thing you can do is show the refs your hands and stop yourself from reaching and make him try to finish over our bigs at the rim.”
Harden averages 10.5 free throws per game and hits 84.4 percent of those shots. The Rocket with the next most free throws per game? Nene, who averages only 2.5 attempts a game and hits only 60 percent of those. So if you can keep Harden off the line you’re torpedoing a lot of what Houston likes to do.
Of course what the Rockets like to do most of all is fire up the long ball. They shoot (37) and make (14) more threes than any team per game in the NBA. They make 37.7 percent of their attempts (5th) and 37.3 percent of their points are scored from beyond the arc (T-1st).
The Thunder are actually doing a pretty job defending the perimeter. Opponents are hitting 33.9 percent on 25 attempts which is tied for 7th best 3-point shooting defense in the league.
Donovan would love for his defense to hold Houston to 25 threes especially since in that November game the Rockets took 40 shots behind the arc, hitting 14.
The presence of Beverley will add some fire to the crowd and will provide a tougher defensive matchup.
Westbrook’s triple-double streak also adds some intrigue. If he gets another one tonight he’ll tie Michael Jordan and Oscar Robertson at seven straight. The NBA record for consecutive triples is held by Wilt Chamberlain who had nine in a row in the spring of 1968.
Should be some big time fun tonight. You can see the game either on Fox Sports Oklahoma or ESPN. Tipoff is set for 7:10.