The Thunder started the year 6-1. They are the only team with a win over the surging Los Angeles Clippers (ignore them at your own peril). You can look at those six wins and nitpick, but it took 7 games for OKC to do something it has taken Houston 10 games to accomplish.
Since the 6-1 start, the Thunder have dropped four straight, and it has coincided with a difficult stretch. Toronto and the Clippers are both fighting to finish in the top 2 in their respective conferences. Orlando came in with Serge Ibaka looking for revenge, and then having to fly overnight to Detroit to face a rested Pistons squad did the Thunder no favors.
So now the Rockets and Thunder are close in the standings but heading in different directions. The hope around the Rockets centers on the fact that they've played more than twice as many games on the road as at home and that the team looks fun and James Harden is doing crazy things. For the Thunder, they have a stud of their own and are trying to deal with lowered expectations and a younger squad.
Also, let's talk about making an NBA schedule. How in the world does the NBA not send Kevin Durant to OKC until February? It's absolutely garbage. The Warriors should have travelled to OKC on opening night. And then in return, maybe the return leg could have happened in Oakland on Christmas Day. Everyone's watching those games. Instead, the NBA sent a clearly inferior Thunder team to the Bay and they got trounced, and now the excitement for the next matchups is dimmed. NBA, you have to do a better job with your storylines early in the season. Or you could hire me. I have lots of great ideas. Like not sending Houston on three separate five-game road trips. Or making them play in Denver twice on back-to-backs. I can be objective for everyone else though!
Tip off is at 7pm CT
Point Guard: James Harden vs. Russell Westbrook
This is the part where Rockets fans tell me I'm crazy and that Thunder fans tell me I'm crazy.
Don't disappoint me.
The last time two players had a triple-double against each other was March 6 of last season when Russ and Giannis Antetokounmpo each hit the mark in an OKC trip to Milwaukee.
Oh, and if the season ended today these two guys would be All-NBA first team and Steph Curry wouldn't. So please, no injuries so that that can become a reality.
Shooting Guard: Eric Gordon vs. Victor Oladipo
I am so biased here with these Hoosiers. I have great stories about watching these guys in their younger days. I got to watch EG on ESPN when he was a high schooler and even though he was a top recruit, he spent much of the first half blending in and not forcing the issue. Then, with the game close late in the half, he went on a personal 12-0 run to basically end the game after two quarters. It was insane.
I like Tom Crean a lot and he coach Oladipo at Indiana (Kelvin Sampson was EG's coach when he was there). I watched Oladipo and Cody Zeller whenever I could. His talent came late, but his athleticism allowed him to become a physical wing defender. Expect him to spend a good chunk of tonight watching Harden.
Oh, and he can dunk too.
Small Forward: Trevor Ariza vs. Andre Roberson
Ariza keeps doing Ariza things.
Roberson is shooting 36% from deep so far this season. He doesn't take a ton of them, but if he can help them stretch the court for Russ, he's going to make the Thunder a much better team. Shooting has been his bugaboo in his career, but his length and defense make him a commodity in today's game.
Power Forward: Ryan Anderson vs. Domantas Sabonis
Sabonis is my favorite rookie. Sure, part of it has to do with my love of Gonzaga basketball. And sure, I loved watching Arvydas Sabonis hit 3s (a center that shot 3s in the 90s was a rare sight indeed) and throw incredible passes that Jason Williams would appreciate.
But Domas is his own player. Sure, the father angle is easy for commentators to pick up on and discuss, but this Sabonis is more of a banger than his father was. He's physical and an instinctive rebounder. He only added the deep shot to his repertoire last season at Gonzaga, and it's still a work in progress.
But this kid is good, and he's going to be a good player for a long time.
Center: Clint Capela vs. Steven Adams
I called Capela and Joel Embiid a wash heading into the Philly game. And for four minutes, I looked wrong. And then after that I looked really wrong, in a totally different direction.
Capela got beat up by Joel Embiid in the first four minutes and responded with his best game of the year. Showed lots of heart— Ethan Rothstein (@ethanrothstein) November 15, 2016
Adams was disappointing against the Pistons' big front line. I expect a bounce-back game from him tonight.
Rockets: Corey Brewer, Sam Dekker, K.J. McDaniels, Tyler Ennis, Nene, Montrezl Harrell
Thunder: Jerami Grant, Joffrey Lauvergne, Enes Kanter, Semaj Christon, Alex Abrines, Anthony Morrow
Prediction: Rockets get blown out, 110-90
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