Before we get started, I hope everyone has a wonderful Christmas. Whether you’re in the US or abroad, hopefully you’re spending time with family. And thank you for spending at least part of your Christmas reading this preview and hanging out with us at The Dream Shake.
The Houston Rockets have played on four of the last five Christmas Days. In those four games, they have a 3-1 record with wins over the Chicago Bulls and San Antonio Spurs (twice). Last year, for the first time in the James Harden era, Houston lost on Christmas Day to these Oklahoma City Thunder in OKC.
The Thunder probably wish the season ended today. Or rather, ends as soon as Andre Roberson returns from injury. OKC probably feels like they’re ready for the playoffs right now and the only thing that can really happen over the next four months is a tough injury that hurts their chances at a title. Rockets fans can relate.
James Harden averaged 39 points and 9 rebounds last weeks, and Houston went 3-1. Still, Paul George took home Player of the Week honors for the Western Conference. Part of that is the league’s hesitancy to give players the award back-to-back, but the other side is that George averaged 35 points and 11 points per game for the week to go with a staggering 52% shooting from the floor and 47% from deep. He’s been engulfed in flames all season and is making a strong push to get into the absolute top tier of NBA players. Maybe he’s already there.
Oklahoma City on the whole is obviously a good team, but they do two things exceptionally well: defend and rebound.
OKC is tops in the league in steals and their lineup features length and size at every position, which again has not included Roberson yet. On the glass, they are the best offensive rebounding team in the league and near the top on the defensive end. One of Houston’s weaknesses this season has been on the glass, and rebounding will probably play a big role in the outcome of this game.
It’s difficult to see a path to victory for Houston. OKC has the length and athleticism to make Harden’s life difficult, and Steven Adams is a particularly thorny problem that Houston struggles to solve. Somehow, I’ve gone 400 words without mentioning Russell Westbrook, so here he is. Russ is shooting 24% from deep this season, so get ready for him to inexplicably go 6-8 today.
Finally, Christmas games generally favor the road team as home teams are unlikely to be 100% focused on the game when they are so close to home and family members. The road teams know they aren’t getting a full Christmas, and are therefore more prepared for what amounts to a business trip.
Tip-off is at 2pm CT on ABC