Down the Stretch They Come: Thunder Need a Win in Houston

  • The Thunder are desperate to lock up a playoff berth in the jammed-up Western Conference
  • The Rockets don’t plan to let up as the playoffs near
  • We have expert analysis for Saturday’s marquee match-up, as well as straight-up picks for all six NBA games on the slate

It’s a battle of getting right vs. getting in, as the Houston Rockets (64-15, 34-6 Home) welcome the Oklahoma City Thunder (45-34, 19-20 Away) to the Toyota Center for a Saturday night primetime affair on ABC.

It’s hard to pick faults with the top team in the NBA, but that’s just what happened after the Rockets were thumped by the Spurs on April 1.

Never mind that it was only the second “L” on their docket in their last 30 games, that loss convinced head coach Mike D’Antoni that Houston would play out the string, to build and maintain consistency over resting players.

It’s a luxury that the Thunder don’t have. Having dropped four of their last five, OKC is in legitimate danger of falling out of the playoff picture if they can’t right the ship in these last three games.

It’s so tight in the West that other results could get them in by default, but they currently control their destiny, and they’d like to keep it that way.

One thing is for certain: Russ Westbrook will show up – when can you say he hasn’t? He dropped 44 points and 16 rebounds in their last loss to Golden State. Some help would have been nice.

James Harden
James Harden has led the Rockets to first in the West. (Photo: Keith Allison (Flickr) CC License.)

Straight-Up Pick: Thunder

When in doubt, go with the more desperate team.

Something about going against the Rockets has brought out some of the best of the OKC’s big three, which usually is just firing on two cylinders. In their Christmas Day win, Westbrook, Carmelo Anthony and Paul George combined for 75 points, led by Westbrook’s 31. Even in a loss to the Rockets on March 7, George was the low man with 17, but they still dropped 72.

Expect George to eventually find his way out of his shooting funk, he’s averaging just 19 points per game while shooting a ghastly 36-percent from the field. In their 44 wins, he’s scoring nearly 23 a game while shooting at 44-percent overall and a blistering 41-percent from beyond the arc.

Beyond the arc is where Houston can absolutely overwhelm you. They pump in an average of 15 moneyballs a game, a number so dominant, that only one other team is even averaging 12 (Nets).

They join the Warriors as the only teams to average 113+ points per contest, and it all centers around the likely MVP in James Harden. He’s averaging 26 points and 12.5 assists against OKC this season.

If D’Antoni sees enough from his troops early on, he could take the pedal off the gas a little bit, perhaps shaving minutes from Chris Paul and James Harden’s ledger.

For that reason, OKC takes control for the win late.

Predicted score

118-110

Predicted total

228

Saturday Straight-Up Picks

With playoff spots still up for grabs, a couple of other biggies out West dot the Saturday schedule, including the Pelicans having to contend with the wounded Warriors, while Portland travels to San Antonio to face the Spurs.

Denver Nuggets vs Los Angeles Clippers: Nuggets

Milwaukee Bucks vs New York Knicks: Bucks

Brooklyn Nets vs Chicago Bulls: Bulls

New Orleans Pelicans vs Golden State Warriors: Pelicans

Portland Trail Blazers vs San Antonio Spurs: Spurs

The moneylines, spreads, and game totals for all of these match-ups will be available closer to game time. Visit one of our trusted sportsbooks to place your wager.

Frank Lorenzo

MTS co-founder Frank “Let It Ride” Lorenzo has been betting on sports since he was legally allowed to do so. (Did he do so before then, too? No comment.) He enjoys very strong coffee, neon lights, and passing on his wealth of betting knowledge to anyone who will listen.