Rockets' keys to beating Thunder

Rockets' keys to beating Thunder
April 20, 2013, 5:15 pm
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Rockets confident they can defeat OKC

Feb 20, 2013; Houston, TX, USA; Houston Rockets shooting guard James Harden (13) drives the ball to the basket during the fourth quarter against the Oklahoma City Thunder at Toyota Center. The Rockets defeated the Thunder 122-119.

(Troy Taormina-USA TODAY Sports)

Sunday is a new beginning.

Despite losing the regular season series to Oklahoma City, 2-1, the Rockets believe they are starting on an even slate heading into their Western Conference playoff series against the Thunder.

And even though the Rockets feel like they’re better than an eight seed, it doesn’t change the fact that they’re playing the top seed in the West and that they have a tough series ahead of them.

The Rockets were the second-highest scoring team in the league with 106.0 points per game (the Thunder are third with 105.7 points per game), but they also allowed 102.5 points per game, the third worst in the league. In the two games in which the Thunder beat Houston in the regular season, they did so by a combined 52 points. They averaged 121 in the three contests between the two.   

So, given their offensive strengths along with their defensive weaknesses, they know there are keys to the series if they are to have a chance.

“Be aggressive,” Rockets guard Jeremy Lin said. “Let everything happen naturally. We’ve got to move the ball against this team. They’re going to load up on me, they’re going to load up on James, they’re going to load up on Chandler, so playing to the weak side is going to be huge in this series.”

“Not turning the ball over, get good shots and rebound the basketball,” Rockets guard James Harden said. “We know they’re going to make some tough shots and they’re a very good home team, so we’ve got to control the basketball, get stops and get out in transition.”

“They play at a fast pace, we try to play at a face pace,” coach Kevin McHale said. “It’s going to be a game where we’re probably getting up and down. What we can’t do is get into one of those games where we turn it over, especially high on the floor. They really get out and run on that.”

Containing the Thunder’s two superstars, Kevin Durant and Russell Westbrook, will also be key in the series.  No stranger to tough defensive assignments, Chandler Parsons will be the main matchup for Durant, who just lost out on his fourth league scoring title to Carmelo Anthony by six-tenths of a point. 

“I’ve watched so much film on him where I know the sets they run, where he wants to go on the floor, so just trying to take those away and make it hard for him and not let him get to his left hand – he’s a  very strong left hand driver,” Parsons said. “He’s not the strongest guy in the world so just try and be physical with him and make it difficult, but he hits some ridiculous shots.”

Lin and Patrick Beverley will try to handle Westbrook who finished the season ranked sixth in the NBA in scoring with 23.2 points per game.

“He’s a great player,” Lin said. “He’s explosive, he’s young, he’s fast, so just got to keep him out of the paint and try to make him take tough shots.”

“You can’t (limit Westbrook). He’s an All-Star for a reason,” Rockets guard Patrick Beverley said. “All you can do is try to contain him and try to make him miss shots so we can get out on our break and hopefully that will lead to early offense for us.”

Notes:

Parsons was still wearing protection over his right calf he injured versus Sacramento and caused him to miss four games, but he said it was the first day he didn’t have to rehab it before practice. He just planned on icing it after practice.

The Rockets are flying home after Game 1 and will practice at Toyota Center on Monday and Tuesday before heading back to Oklahoma City for Game 2 on Wednesday.