When the Oklahoma City Thunder and Houston Rockets met two months ago, they staged one of the sorriest shows in the NBA this season.
While the Thunder were without Kevin Durant and Russell Westbrook, they haven’t necessarily returned to their offensively adept selves with the duo back on the court.
Nearly a full week of uninterrupted practice could help sync-up Oklahoma City’s offense Thursday night when it travels to Houston.
The Rockets (27-12) have won the last two meetings, but they couldn’t have been proud of their 69-65 win in Oklahoma City on Nov. 16. They shot 28.8 percent, while the Thunder (18-19) connected on 29.4 – both season lows.
While Houston has been fine since, winning four straight prior to Wednesday’s 120-113 loss in Orlando, Oklahoma City has labored. The Thunder, however, have been off since Friday’s 99-95 home win over Utah and practices have been intense.
"(It) felt like a little training camp," Durant told the team’s official website. "It’s all about transferring what we always know and what we’re improving on – whether it’s timing, communication or execution, we have to transfer it over."
Oklahoma City has been held under 100 points in three straight games for the fourth time this season, something that didn’t happen once over the previous two seasons. The win over the Jazz was preceded by losses in Sacramento and Golden State, and the Thunder have shot 36.3 percent – including 26.6 from 3-point range – during the three-game stretch.
Durant hasn’t been a consistent part of the problem when healthy. He had 32 points against Utah, is shooting 52.2 percent and is averaging 29.6 points in five games back from the latest interruption to his season. The team has gone 10-4 with Durant, who has averaged 34.8 points over a 3-1 stretch against Houston.
Westbrook, who has missed four of the last five against the Rockets, had 25 on 9-of-17 shooting against the Jazz after a five-game span in which he shot 27.3 percent.
The duo is also getting used to playing with Dion Waiters, who is two games into his Thunder career after being acquired from Cleveland. The shooting guard had 15 points and shot 7 for 14 after going 1 of 9 in his debut Jan. 7 at San Antonio.
"I’m able to play," Waiters said. "I don’t got to look over my shoulder, anything like that, if I make a mistake. Coaches tell me to play, be aggressive. Be me. Once you get told that, the game’s easy."
He might not say so if he’s matched up against James Harden. The league’s top scorer had 26 in the loss to the Magic and is shooting 62.8 percent in his last three games.
Harden’s performances against his former team have been up and down – though mostly down since the start of last season. He’s averaged 22.0 points on 36.5 percent shooting over a 2-3 stretch against the Thunder after going 5 of 17 for a game-high 19 on Nov. 16.
Dwight Howard has been even worse against Oklahoma City with 9.2 points per game on 31.8 percent shooting in his last six meetings.
The biggest issue against the Magic was Houston’s 21 turnovers. The Rockets are 7-5 when committing at least 20 and 20-7 when staying under that mark.
Against Oklahoma City, Harden wants to see a return to the defensive focus that had the Rockets limiting opponents to 92.5 points per game over their previous four.
"Just come out with some energy," he said. "Everyone have that defensive mindset. I think we can score with any team in the league, but we can’t give up 120 points."