After two full days off, the Thunder will be back in action on Sunday afternoon (2:30 p.m.) when they take on the Rockets in Houston. Here are a few thoughts on the upcoming Western Conference showdown:
Rockets need to win
Despite making it all the way to the Western Conference Finals last season, the Rockets have suffered through a less than successful season that has seen various bumps that range from an in-season coaching change along with speculation of Dwight Howard’s unhappiness.
Even with all the problems surrounding the team, the Rockets are still within striking distance of the playoffs if they can pull out enough wins throughout these next two weeks. Houston currently sits at the ninth seed in the West, but is only one game back of both the Mavericks and Jazz at the seven and eight seeds.
A hungry team always plays harder, and that could be a factor in Sunday afternoon’s game. The Rockets will be fighting for their lives while the Thunder is securely fastened into the third seed in the West.
No question today's game is probably OKC's toughest game left in regular season. Houston in must win mode. #News9Thunder— Steve McGehee (@SteveMcGehee) April 3, 2016
Potential playoff matchup?
It’s a long shot, but the Portland Trailblazers currently have a firm hold on the sixth seed in the Western Conference and the Rockets are only three games back with six remaining. If the Rockets did indeed finish the season on a hot streak while all three of the Blazers, Mavericks and Jazz struggled, than we could see another Thunder vs Rockets playoff series in the first round.
After Sunday’s bout with the Thunder, the Rockets’ schedule lightens up a bit with games against the Mavericks, Suns, Lakers, Timberwolves and Kings to close out the season. It would be tough (and highly unlikely) for Houston to move all the way up to No. 6, but crazier things have happened in the world of sports.
Westbrook vs. Beverley
It doesn’t take a lot to tick off Thunder all-star Russell Westbrook, and it appears Houston point guard Patrick Beverley has perfected the craft.
Tension has grown between the two point guards ever since Westbrook injured his knee during the 2013 playoffs after Beverley attempted an unnecessary steal when it was clear Westbrook was nonchalantly trotting towards the OKC bench.
Since that game, both Westbrook and Beverley seem to bring a little bit extra juice anytime either one of them knows they’ll be lining up across from the other. It should be an intense battle, and undoubtedly the matchup to watch throughout the game.