Retooled Thunder, Rockets face each other for first time

OKLAHOMA CITY — Carmelo Anthony made no secret of his desire to play for the Houston Rockets in the offseason.

Anthony hoped to join friend Chris Paul in Houston after Paul was traded from the Los Angeles Clippers.

But nothing could be worked out between Anthony’s New York Knicks and the Rockets.

Eventually, Anthony approved a deal to the Oklahoma City Thunder.

Monday, Christmas night, Anthony and the Thunder host the Rockets in the teams’ first meeting of the season.

Although the Thunder come in the winner of four consecutive games and six of seven while the Rockets come in having dropped two consecutive games, their seasons have been divergent.

Even with the two recent losses, Houston has won 20 of its last 23 games with the best record in the NBA at 25-6.

The Thunder, however, even with the additions of Anthony and Paul George to go along with Russell Westbrook, have slogged along and have needed this recent winning streak to get above .500 at 18-15.

Paul might not even play Monday night.

He missed Friday’s loss to the Los Angeles Clippers with a left adductor strain and his status for the Christmas game is in doubt.

The Rockets could also be without center Clint Capela, who has missed the last two games with a left heel contusion.

But even if the two miss playing again, Rockets coach Mike D’Antoni said he wanted to see a change in his team against the Thunder.

“We’re just a little bit of woe-is-me attitude and we’ve got to change it,” D’Antoni said after the 128-118 loss to the Clippers.

After that game, Rockets star James Harden complained about the officiating against him after fouling out late.

“I’m tired of hearing, ‘I made a mistake,’ or, ‘I didn’t see it,’ ” Harden said. “That’s frustrating when you hear it as a player. I know we all make mistakes, but it’s just frustrating.”

Harden has scored 50-plus points in consecutive games, becoming the first player since Kobe Bryant in March 2007 to accomplish that feat. Bryant had four consecutive 50-point performances during his streak.

The only other NBA players with back-to-back 50-point performances since 1976 are Michael Jordan, Allen Iverson, Antawn Jamison and Bernard King.

While Harden is putting up monster numbers surrounded by new faces in Houston, Anthony is still trying to figure things out in his new environment.

Recently, Anthony’s role in Oklahoma City’s offense has evolved into being more of a catch-and-shoot player.

The results have been positive, both individually and as a team, as the Thunder have shown positive signs on the offensive end.

“I think to each his own,” Anthony told The Oklahoman when asked about the Rockets’ instant success with their remade roster compared to the Thunder’s struggles. “I think that everybody goes through their ups and downs and their struggles, their triumphs, differently.

“Ours, we were trying to figure out how we wanted to play, how we wanted to do. Any time you get a new team, new players, the style of play becomes different, the acceptance of many things … guys have to accept that. I’m pretty sure they had their own differences they had to fight through, and we had our own differences we had to fight through.”