While the Thunder has spent the past few weeks in a lull, the Houston Rockets have blasted off to new heights.
Oklahoma City has lost five of its past eight games, including inexplicable defeats at the hands of the Cavs and Lakers. The Thunder defense has allowed 109 points per game during this stretch, and in the past two games, career-backups Gerald Green and Jodie Meeks have each gone off for more than 40 against OKC's proud defense.
Thunder coach Scott Brooks knows his team's defense has to improve to beat a team like Houston.
"We like to play with pace, but we don't wanna get caught up in a game we play against a fast team and not defend," Brooks said. "And we've had a lot of moments during this stretch where we haven't played with the defensive intensity that we need. We're well-aware of it and it's correctable."
Houston is 15-2 in its past 17 games, inlcuding collecting wins over the Spurs, Heat, Pacers and Blazers. In fact, the Rockets are an incredible 23-6 in 2014. James Harden has played like a superstar, while Dwight Howard has seemingly regained his Orlando Magic-form.
In 22 of those 23 wins, Houston scored more than 100 points. On the other hand, the Rockets failed to score 100 in all six of those losses.
So it seems that the 100-point mark is the key for Houston, and there's more evidence to back that up. Since James Harden arrived in Houston, the Thunder and Rockets have met 11 times. In those 11 games, the Thunder had won eight, but has scored 100+ points in all 11. In these meetings, OKC is 6-0 when holding Houston to fewer than 100 points and just 2-3 when letting Houston hit that mark.
Holding Houston's dynamic offense down will be extra-difficult for a shorthanded Thunder club that's still playing without starters Thabo Sefolosha and Kendrick Perkins.
"We know we have some missing pieces right now but we're not making an excuse," Brooks said. "We've always had that ‘next-man up' mentality. Perk brings great experience to our team. He brings a lot of toughness, he brings that physical presence that you get with all the battles that he's been through."
In their places, the Thunder will start Steven Adams and Perry Jones, who have a combined three years of experience.
"We have a tall challenge tonight," Brooks declared. "Houston's playing great basketball. They're a very good team, they're talented, they're loaded. It gives us an opportunity to play better against one of the best teams in basketball on our home court."
It will also be Russell Westbrook's first game against the Rockets since infamous injury in Game 2 of the Western Conference Quarterfinals, when Patrick Beverley took out Westbrook's knee in an attempt to steal the ball after a whistle.
Both sides insist it's just another game. We'll see.
Stick with News9.com for full postgame coverage, including a game story and quotes from both teams.