Thunder Plan To Play At Full Strength Today in Houston

By Randy Renner, Senior Writer

After a day off Friday Thunder coach Billy Donovan said after Saturday’s practice session he has no plans to rest anyone for this afternoon’s game in Houston.

“Everyone’s available,” he told reporters.

The Rockets have struggled lately, losing five of their last seven nd seven of their last 11 including a loss in OKC on March 22nd. Despite that Donovan knows this Houston team is still dangerous.

“With their speed and quickness they change ends of the floor at a very high rate,” Donovan said, “And then certainly with (James) Harden with the ball in his hands in the pick-and-roll and Dwight (Howard) at the basket and they’ve gotten a lot of positive play from (Patrick) Beverley and (Trevor) Ariza and they’ve gotten healthier and they’re obviously a very talented team.”

Talented but also apparently troubled. With all their talent the Rockets were one of those teams you just automatically penciled into a playoff spot in the Western Conference and maybe even as high as fourth place.

But Houston has had problems from the beginning leading to the surprising firing of head coach Kevin McHale and what would seem to be an on again-off again feud between Harden and Howard.

Things are so bad now after blowing a nine-point fourth quarter lead against the Bulls and losing 103-100 Thursday night the Rockets are out of the playoff picture trying to get back in.

“They’re desperate, they’re desperate,” Kevin Durant noted after Saturday’s practice. “They wanna get in the playoffs, they play extremely hard and they never quit.”

Durant knows that can make the Rockets extremely dangerous because with the firepower they have, they can get back into a game quickly.

“Like at Cleveland (Tuesday) they were down like 15 or 20 and came back and won the game by seven, so...they just have guys that can score so easy and so quick.”

And they, much like the Thunder earlier in the season, have been wildly inconsistent. Great game one night, like in that win at Cleveland KD was talking about to what happened at home against Chicago on Thursday when they gave up a big lead.

"It's very frustrating, especially in games where we should win," Harden said after the Bulls game. He had only four points in the fourth quarter collapse after scoring 18 in the final 12 minutes of Tuesday's win against the Cavaliers.

"We've got to figure it out."

The Thunder apparently have. After losing eight of their first 12 games coming out of the All-Star break the Thunder have been rolling, winning nine of their next 10. The only loss came at Detroit Tuesday in a game where Durant and Serge Ibaka both sat out for rest.

The home game against the Clippers Thursday night was a bit of a head scratcher though. The Clips sat most of their stars while the Thunder went with their regular lineup and struggled mightily, especially on defense.

Donovan said tip your cap to the Clips.

“It was their shooting that really kept them in the game and it was hard because at times when we were trying to provide help we got beat off the dribble and when we did we pulled across too much and gave up threes so I think it was a great learning experience for us.”

It better have been because if the Thunder aren’t paying attention to the 3-point line today the Rockets have the ability to torch them at least as bad as the Clippers did.

NOTES:

  • With a win today or a Clippers loss against Washington this afternoon, the Thunder will clinch third place in the Western Conference playoffs. The Rockets are locked in a dogfight between three other teams for the final three spots in the playoffs.
  • Durant has scored 29, 33 and 23 points against the Rockets in games this season. If he can get to 20 today he will have scored at least that many in 61 straight games, extending the longest such streak of his career.
  • Russell Westbrook has recorded two of his 16 triple-double this season against the Rockets. If he gets another one today he will tie Magic Johnson for the most triple-doubles in a season since 1988-89.

Tipoff is set for 2:30 this afternoon and it is an exclusive national TV broadcast on ABC. This begins a four-game, seven-day road trip for the Thunder. They play at Denver Tuesday, Portland Wednesday and Sacramento on Saturday.