OKC vs. HOU Preview – Back to Thunder Basketball

The Thunder has built an identity over the last six seasons in Oklahoma City. Tonight is another chance for the squad to put it on display.

At Chesapeake Energy Arena tonight against the Houston Rockets, the Thunder will be squaring off against another tough Western Conference foe that has the ability to score in the paint and along the three-point line. In order for the Thunder to come away victorious, team leaders like Kevin Durant, Russell Westbrook and Nick Collison have said this week that it has to return to its defensive ways that have defined Thunder Basketball over the years.

“It’s just being physical, doing a great job of just defending and playing Thunder defense,” Westbrook said. “We don’t want to give up easy baskets. We want to contain the paint and work our way out.”

The Rockets boast a big man in Dwight Howard and perimeter scorers like Chandler Parsons and James Harden, so the Thunder will need to be in sync on the defensive end. Collison explained that in defending the pick-and-roll, along with fast break drives, the Thunder has to contain the ball, help one another then recover quickly out to shooters at the three-point line. Those rotations have to precise and the communication must be constant in order for the team to continually get stops.

“You have to be totally engaged every possession,” Collison said. “It starts with getting back in transition, getting back and getting turned around, locating a man, covering a man and then also continuing to play.”

“We have to guard guys trying to drive, then kicking out, guarding close outs which is tough to do, because you have to guard pick-and-rolls,” Collison continued. “It’s total engagement from the time the ball changes possession until you’re able to get it back, hopefully with the rebound.”

Perhaps the most important aspect of the Thunder’s defensive effort tonight will need to come before the ball even crosses half court. The Rockets like to push the tempo as quickly as possible after makes and misses, meaning the Thunder has to turn and sprint back into position in order to get matched up. Identifying players on the wings, communicating with one another about who will guard each man then getting aligned properly are all prerequisites for starting a defensive possession out correctly tonight.

“They’re playing faster,” Westbrook said. “They’ve done a great job of shooting the ball and playing quicker. Their fast break points are probably number one in the league right now. They’re playing at a good pace.”

In the Notes:

- The Thunder is 2-0 against the Rockets this season, and overall is 10-10 against Houston in the regular season.

- The Thunder’s 10-game winning streak in January started with a win in Houston when it held the Rockets to 19 second half points.

- The Thunder is 14-2 when holding opponents to under 40 percent shooting so far this season.

Broadcast Info:

7:00 p.m. CT. TV – Fox Sports Oklahoma; Radio – 98.1 FM The Sports Animal, Thunder Radio Network