Rockets hope to close out Thunder

HOUSTON — One thing that stood out about the game-winning basket produced by Houston Rockets guard Chris Paul on Thursday against the Portland Trail Blazers was the fact that, a week earlier, the Rockets received a buzzer-beating jumper from another member of its backcourt.

When Paul converted a driving floater with eight-tenths of a second left, he not only secured a 96-94 victory that extended the Rockets’ homecourt winning streak to 20 games, he followed a similar bit of heroics delivered by Gerald Green on March 30 against the Phoenix Suns.

While Paul saved the Rockets the indignity of playing an extra period after once holding a 24-point lead, Green capped a comeback from a 21-point deficit with his game-winning, corner 3-pointer.

The Rockets (64-15) received a similar shot from guard Eric Gordon on Oct. 25, with Gordon nailing a 3-pointer at the buzzer to cap a 105-104 road victory over the Philadelphia 76ers. When it comes to needing a bit of late-game heroics, Houston has ample options at its disposal.

If needed, the Rockets hope to use one of their options to close out another game Saturday night when they host the Oklahoma City Thunder.

“We’ve got a lot of closers,” Rockets coach Mike D’Antoni said. “Eric has made a big shot, Gerald has made a big shot, Chris does, James (Harden) does. We’ve got a lot of them.”

Harden, an MVP frontrunner, is absent from the Rockets’ list of buzzer-beating contributors. He has, of course, produced his share of clutch shots and appreciates the additional support.

“It helps a lot,” Harden said. “These last few years especially I’ve learned that, obviously, you can’t do it by yourself. You need guys to step up and make big shots and make big plays. We have enough guys here on any given night that can change a playoff series. That’s what you need. That’s what can push you over the top.”

The Thunder (45-34) are aware of the challenge that comes with defending the Rockets’ multitude of shooters. Atop any scouting report on Houston is that particular directive.

“Biggest thing is, eliminate as many 3s as possible and having a focus on more than just James and Chris, having a focus on everybody,” Thunder forward Paul George said. “They’ve got guys that can shoot the ball.”

Oklahoma City will be seeking a season series victory at Toyota Center, having split the previous two meetings with the Rockets at Chesapeake Energy Arena. A win by itself is of greater significance for the Thunder, losers of four of its last five games during this stretch run.

The Thunder remain squarely in the playoff picture, but the tenuous standings at the bottom of the West make for perilous footing for several teams, but they are not worried.

“We’re not in the situation to press,” George said. “We’ve just got to handle what our job is. We’re not on the bubble trying to play and fight our way in. We’re in right now; we’ve got to sustain that. It’s not a scenario where we’re in the situation to be pressing. We’ve just got to handle our job and close this year out on a high note.”