First off, Merry Christmas and Happy Holidays to all of us at The Dream Shake. Hopefully everyone is safe today and able to watch some fun NBA action.
The Rockets and Thunder have spent much of the year on opposite ends of the spectrum. While Houston started red hot with the seamless addition of future Hall of Famer Chris Paul to their James Harden-centric offense, the Thunder have floundered due to an inability to integrate their shiny new acquisitions into their Russell Westbrook-centric everything.
Over the last few days though, that script has flipped. The Rockets aren't reeling but they have dropped two straight home games to the Los Angeles teams. Meanwhile, the Thunder have won six of their last seven games including their last four. Not only have they been winning, but they are 7-1 in their last eight games decided by five points or fewer. Furthermore, they continue to sport one of the league's stingiest defenses, ranking third overall in defensive efficiency. Paul George gives them someone who can guard four positions and Patrick Patterson allows them to play small-ball if Steven Adams can't hang.
For all those issues that the Thunder faced early in the season during crunch time, they seem to be figuring out the solution. Namely, they have extracted Carmelo Anthony isolations from their offense to try to keep the ball moving. Russell Westbrook is getting to play with the freedom he was awarded last year and the results have been successful. Russ is shooting a robust 58% from the field over his last five games and 35% from distance. As much as we knock him for not deserving the MVP award last year (because he didn't), there's no denying that Russell Westbrook is a top 3 point guard in the NBA.
Selfishly, I hope the Rockets go for this one. I want Clint Capela and Chris Paul to play in this game. As fans, this game feels like it means more than just one game as it will be treated as a referendum on the offseason acquisitions and the teams' championship chances moving forward. Despite that, it's still just a game in Decemeber. I expect the Thunder to care much more deeply about this game than the Rockets, who are likely to sit both Capela and Paul and live for the future over a regular season game.
Prediction: Russ gets his triple double, the media announces the Thunder's return to prominence, and the Rockets move onto the next one. Thunder win 115-95.
Tip-off is at 7pm CT on ABC