Rockets-Thunder Preview

The Oklahoma City Thunder’s defensive pressure has been

outstanding lately. Coach Scott Brooks was pleased to see that same

intensity during his team’s most recent practice.

With a chance to move into a first-place tie in the Northwest

Division, the Thunder go for their fourth consecutive victory

Wednesday night against the Houston Rockets, who have reportedly

added an under-achieving former first-round pick to an improving


Coming off a 106-77 victory over Cleveland on Sunday when they

held the Cavaliers to 32 second-half points on 26.5 percent

shooting from the field, the Thunder (17-8) had their most physical

practice of the season Tuesday.

“It was good. It was a little chippy today,” Brooks said. “Our

guys aren’t normally are not like that (in practice), but I like

it. I like to see the toughness that needed to be displayed in

order to be successful.

“… The contact part of practice wasn’t long, but when it was,

guys were getting after it and challenging each other. That’s good


The Thunder, who can pull even in the Northwest with idle Utah,

are holding teams to 90.7 points – 11.2 fewer than their season

average – and 41.0 percent shooting in last three games.

“I thought our defensive effort was great tonight,” Kevin

Durant, the league’s leading scorer with 27.3 points per game, said

Sunday. “We played well on both ends of the floor and our defense

tonight led to some easy baskets for us.”

The Thunder are averaging 104.7 points and shooting 51.8 percent

in the last three games, and they are undefeated in 13 games this

season when scoring at least 105.

Reaching that point total could be a challenge the way Houston

(10-14) is playing. Including Tuesday’s 118-105 victory over

Sacramento, the Rockets are holding teams to 95.0 points – nearly

10 fewer than their 2010-11 average – in the last four games.

“We’re going to play solid halfcourt defense,” said Shane

Battier, who will likely match up with Durant.

While Houston has won six in a row at home, coach Rick Adelman’s

team opens this stretch of four of five on the road with just one

victory away from Toyota Center since Nov. 14.

Making their first visit to Oklahoma City since a 116-99 loss on

Nov. 17, the Rockets will unlikely have Terrence Williams available

after reportedly acquiring the troubled swingman Tuesday from New

Jersey as part of a three-team deal involving the Los Angeles


Williams is averaging 6.7 points in 10 games this season and has

been fined for being late to practices and sent home from one game

for failure to follow team rules. He also played a couple of games

in the D-League.

Despite participating in the majority of Monday’s practice,

Rockets point guard Aaron Brooks is expected to miss his 20th

consecutive game with a severely sprained left ankle. That leaves

Kyle Lowry with the task of guarding Russell Westbrook, who is

having a career year with 23.6 points per game and 8.8 assists.

Westbrook scored 23 with 10 assists as the Thunder dropped their

11th in a row in Houston, 99-98 on Nov. 28.

If Thunder center Nenad Krstic misses his third straight game

with a lower back sprain, Serge Ibaka will likely get the start and

guard Luis Scola, who had 26 and eight rebounds in last month’s

loss in Oklahoma City.

Ibaka grabbed a team-high eight boards in each of the two

matchups with Houston this season.