With our trusty AK having to step aside for a few days, I'll do my best to fill in on the game preview, though I do have some big shoes to fill. I'm not going to be able to match his style, so I'll just give you some thoughts for tonight.
The Rockets are travelling to Oklahoma City to take on the 48-22 Thunder, and they very well might be without their best player, as James Harden nurses a sprained ankle sustained over the weekend against the Hawks. Harden missed yesterday's practice and is officially listed as questionable tonight's tilt.
There's also the recent Dwight Howard spray can drama that's been dominating the NBA news feeds of late, though it was announced yesterday there would be no punishment for the Rockets or their big man.
Thunder center Steven Adams, who now looks like they just rolled him in from 6 weeks of camping in the outback, used the controversy to take a swipe at Howard's free throw shooting, though did he admit he's not exactly Steve Nash at the charity stripe himself.
Steven Adams on Dwight Howard stick-em: "Maybe that's why he misses free throws, mate." pic.twitter.com/5x2Y91PtuJ— Anthony Slater (@anthonyVslater) March 21, 2016
There is good news for the Rockets, and that's Michael Beasley's been on an absolute tear, averaging 17.8 point per game over his last 6 contests, when he became a fully active member of the rotation. He can be counted on to put up at least 25 shots tonight (a conservative estimate) should Harden not be available.
This is a huge game for the Rockets, as they stand tied with the Dallas Mavericks for 7th place with the same 35-35 record. The Utah Jazz are just a game back of both teams, while the Portland Trail Blazers hang on to a half game lead on both Dallas and Houston. All of those teams are off tonight, and the Rockets play the Jazz tomorrow at home in the second half of a back-to-back. We're at the point in the season when each and every one of these games has serious playoff implications.
The Thunder are currently on a four-game winning streak and hold a glistening 27-9 record on their home floor. However, they're currently not without injury concerns of their own, as like Harden, Kevin Durant is also listed as questionable tonight with with a bruised elbow. He missed yesterday's practice as well and instead sat with his elbow wrapped in ice, and we'll likely know more about Durant's status after today's shoot around.
The Thunder will likely be without backup forward Kyle Singler, who's nursing a sore back.
While the Thunder's own injury concerns make Harden's questionable status a little easier to stomach, I fear it's just setting the stage for Russell Westbrook to step up and abuse Patrick Beverley and Jason Terry at the point. Westbrook's averaged a near-triple dip this season against Houston, putting up 25.5 points, 12.5 assists and 9 boards in the two games the teams have played. Look for something similar, if not even more impressive, tonight.
I'd love to have more faith in the Rockets this evening, but as it usually is against the better teams, I think the porous Houston defense will be the difference in the game, whether The Beard plays or not.
Oklahoma City 114 - Houston 106.
The game is a nationally televised slate on TNT, starting at 7pm Houston time.
For more on the Thunder, read up at Welcome to Loud City.