Leading MVP candidates James Harden and Russell Westbrook square off for the third time this season when the torrid Houston Rockets host the Oklahoma City Thunder on Thursday. Oklahoma City star Westbrook averaged 28.5 points, 9.5 assists and 8.5 rebounds as the teams split their two previous meetings while Houston’s Harden averaged 17, 12.5 and eight.
Harden is the prime reason why the Rockets have won five straight games and 16 of their last 18, but he shot just 25.6 percent in the two contests against the Thunder. “When they double-team me, just get off the ball and put trust in my teammates to make the play for me,” Harden told reporters in terms of what he needs to do different. “It’s just having confidence of knocking down shots and making the right play. It doesn’t have to be the home-run play all the time.” Westbrook shot just 37.8 percent in the two games and is entering this contest on the heels of two shaky shooting performances. The 28-year-old was 19-of-59 – including 4-of-22 from 3-point range – as Oklahoma City lost back-to-back games, including Wednesday’s 123-112 road setback against Charlotte.
TV: 8 p.m. TNT, FSN Oklahoma
LINE HISTORY: The Rockets opened as 8.5-point home favorites over the visiting Thunder and that’s where the number currently sits. The total hit the board at 224 and has been bet up one full point to 225. Check out the complete line history here.
Thunder – C Joffrey Lauvergne (Questionable, illness)
Rockets – PG Patrick Beverley (Probable, wrist), C Clint Capela (Late January, leg)
COVERS POWER RANKINGS: Thunder (-4.5) – Rockets (-9.8) + home court (-3) = Rockets -8.3
ABOUT THE THUNDER (21-15 SU, 18-17-1 ATS, 15-21 O/U): Westbrook recorded 33 points, 15 rebounds and eight assists in the loss to Charlotte, but it rated as a highly frustrating contest. He was just 10-of-31 shooting and also received a technical foul in the first quarter for throwing the ball in the direction of Tre Maddox in the first quarter and conking the referee in the side of the head. “I called his name, he turned right at me and then he looked away,” Westbrook told reporters afterward. “I don’t know what to tell you, I really don’t. I’m not the type of guy – I would never, ever disrespect the game in that way, throw the ball at a referee. I’ve never done it before. That’s just not even heard of in our game today.”
ABOUT THE ROCKETS (27-9 SU, 24-12 ATS, 20-16 O/U): Houston expects to have pesky guard Patrick Beverley (wrist), who forced Westbrook to misfire on a late jumper in the Rockets’ 102-99 victory on Dec. 9, back after a two-game absence. Houston, which ranks second in scoring at 114.6 points per game, often uses offense to roar past teams but had to rely on defense to overcome a 12-point halftime deficit en route to a 101-91 win over Washington on Tuesday. “It’s easier to win when everyone’s playing well and we’re shooting the lights out and all that,” coach Mike D’Antoni told reporters. “We’ve got that part, but to grind it out, we haven’t done too many. We didn’t have our mojo but found a way, and that’s really important for a team.”
DANCE TEAM BATTLE:
* Thunder are 9-2 ATS in their last 11 games following a straight up loss of more than 10 points.
* Rockets are 8-2 ATS in their last 10 vs. NBA Northwest.
* Under is 6-1 in Thunder last 7 games playing on 0 days rest.
* Under is 8-2 in Rockets last 10 games playing on 2 days rest.
* Thunder are 0-8 ATS in the last 8 meetings.
Check out a complete list of hot and cold trends, here.
COVERS CONSENSUS: 59 percent of Covers users are siding with the road dog Thunder and Over is picking up 65 percent of the totals wagers. View full consensus data here.