There are quire a few things for the Rockets to play for Friday night, when they host the Oklahoma City Thunder. Houston will clinch a playoff berth with a victory. With a win, Houston will avoid their first-four game losing streak of the season. Maybe most importantly, though, the Rockets have not beaten the Thunder this season, losing all three games to Oklahoma City by eight points or more. They faced the same predicament just under a week ago, when the Clippers were at Toyota Center, having beaten the Rockets by at least eight points in three previous meetings. The Rockets lost that Friday night game by 11 points and have not won a game since.
What will also be the same, is the Rockets are expecting to play without Dwight Howard, who did not participate in shootaround, and Pat Beverley, who is continuing his rehabilitation on his right knee. Each have missed the last three games, again, all losses.
"We have to play with a deep sense of urgency," Rockets guard Jeremy Lin said. "Not only that, we've lost three in a row, we need to be as desperate as we can be tonight. I don't think we're the only team, but we're definitely one team, that's been plagued by injuries, but that's something we try really not to think about too much. Regardless who we have, we want to make sure we are consistent in how we play."
Terrence Jones is expected to play tonight, after missing their game against Brooklyn and playing just ten minutes against Toronto, trying to play through flu-like symptoms.
Houston has not shot well against Oklahoma City this season at just under 40 percent and have been held to fewer than 100 points in each meeting.
"They've done a great job of clamping down on defense, making everything tough for us," Lin said of the Thunder's defense against Houston. "We haven't been able to get stuff extremely easy, minus maybe the first half of when we played here. We're learning how to take their aggression on defense and hopefully use it against them and that's what we're going to try to do tonight."
That first half he reference was part of the Rockets shocking 104-92 loss to the Thunder in Houston on Jan. 16. Houston led 73-59 at the half, but became the first team in the shot-clock era to ever score at least 70 points in the first half an then score less than 20 in the second half. Houston scored season-lows of 10 points in the third quarter and just nine points in the fourth quarter. Houston made 12-of-20 3-pointers in the first half, but then missed all 12 of their 3-point attempts in the second half.
It's a process, too, they've been together for a long time and we're trying to find our way and if we're want to be the team that we want to be this is one of the things that we have to figure out.
"It's going to be a tough game for us, but we have to get back on our winning ways," said guard James Harden, who's averaging just 17 points on 37 percent shooting against the Thunder. "We've lost three in a row and we're back at home, hopefully we can rally the guys and get a good win. We're strong enough, we've battled through adversity all year, another test for us late in the season and we have to figure a way to get out of it. That's going to help us mentally going into the playoffs."
Oklahoma City ended the San Antonio Spurs' 19-game winning streak on Thursday night to pull within three games of the Spurs for the top seed in the west. Kevin Durant scored 28 points, giving him 39 straight games of scoring 25 or more points, the longest such streak in the NBA, since Michael Jordan did it 40 consecutive times in the 1986-1987 regular season. Durant has averaged 37 points per game against the Rockets this season, scoring at least 33 points in each game. In 22 games against Houston prior to this season, he had scored more than 33 points against the Rockets just once.
Thunder guard Russell Westbrook (rest) and center Kendrick Perkins (rest) will not play against the Rockets as neither is currently playing in both games of back-to-backs and each played Thusday night in the Thunder's 106-94 win over the Spurs.