Thunder Heads to Houston with Defense in Mind

By using three full days without a game to rest up, re-focus and take time to work on fundamentals, the Thunder showed its hard work on the court as it took care of a Utah Jazz team that was on its third night of a back-to-back-to-back in a 111-85 victory. After the game on Tuesday night, Thunder Head Coach Scott Brooks discussed his team’s next challenge only minutes before the squad hopped on a plane for Houston to face the Rockets tonight.

The Thunder beat the Rockets on back-to-back nights during the first two legs of its own back-to-back-to-back stretch in early January. In the first game at home, the Thunder beat Houston 109-94, but had more difficulty at Houston, winning 98-95. Rockets forward Luis Scola was a handful in the second meeting, and is a focal point for the Thunder.

“Scola is as crafty and tricky as any big in this league,” Brooks said. “He has every move, up-and-under, pump fakes, midrange shooting. He gets to the free throw line. He challenges us every time but I feel confident that our guys are going to compete.”

Coming off two big-time defensive performances against elite Jazz big men in Al Jefferson and Paul Millsap, the Thunder post men will have to bring its typical level of high intensity and effectiveness in defending Scola and the Rockets. From Kendrick Perkins taking the right angles on pick-and-rolls to Serge Ibaka protecting the rim, the Thunder hopes to continue improving in its utilization of each players’ strengths to give the team a chance to win.

“Our bigs play every night,” Brooks said. “They give everything they have. I think they’ve done a great job and I anticipate them playing well tomorrow.”

Nick Collison and Nazr Mohammed also fill out the Thunder’s rotation of bigs, with Collison seemingly being in the right position at all times while Mohammed brings a strong, veteran, post presence. As the four big men keep developing a rapport with one another and improve their communication on the defensive end, they also know they will have a big task ahead of them in Houston. Rockets point guard Kyle Lowry missed both games the Thunder played against the Rockets earlier this season, but will likely be on the court for tonight’s contest.

“It’s a different team we faced because Kyle Lowry is back,” Mohammed said. “We saw them twice without him. He’s having an unbelievable year, so we have to go out there focused. You might see a different type of (Houston) team tomorrow.”