There is no shortage of Western Conference seeding drama with two days of NBA games left. Seeds two through eight are not decided yet, and seeds three through eight all have at least three teams that can achieve those spots.
The 53-28 Houston Rockets and 47-33 Oklahoma City Thunder are both in the thick of the chaos. Houston can finish between second and fourth and the Thunder can finish between sixth and eighth. Needless to say, the stakes will be high when they meet for a game in Oklahoma City today (9:30 p.m. ET Tuesday on TNT).
Houston have been on a roll for about seven weeks. The Rockets are 20-3 in their last 23 games and have an average point differential of plus-12.1 in that stretch. In their current six-game win streak, they are obliterating opponents by 25.8 points per game. OKC has mostly struggled since the All-Star break, but the squad has bounced back with three consecutive wins.
How will this intense game play out? This NBA game preview will discuss some interesting angles that will affect the outcome. Then we will give our Houston Rockets vs OKC predictions from a betting picks standpoint.
Will Poor Free-Throw Shooting Doom the Thunder?
Oklahoma is a physical, athletic team that does a great job getting to the free-throw line. The squad is sixth in free-throw attempts per game. However, converting efficiently at the charity stripe has been an issue, as the team ranks No. 28 in free-throw percentage.
The Thunder typically win when their free throws fall. They are 18-2 when they hit at least 78.8 percent of their free throws, but they are just 11-19 when they make two-thirds or fewer of their free throws. Those freebies can make a huge difference.
Houston can really muck up this game for OKC if it fouls the right players at the right time when they are out of rhythm or tired. Let’s see if the Rockets are able to do that and the Thunder are able to step up to the line and remain focused.
Can the Thunder Find a Way to Limit Eric Gordon?
Quiz: Which player has made the third-most three-pointers in the NBA since the beginning of March (behind Stephen Curry and James Harden)?
The answer is Eric Gordon. The Rockets’ shooting guard has made 79 threes in his last 18 games (4.4 per game), which is 10 more than fourth-place Buddy Hield. Gordon was hitting just 32 percent of his downtown shots through the end of February, but he has bumped that number way up to 46.7 percent in March and April.
Teams are trying so hard to stop James Harden and Chris Paul that more open, in-rhythm shots are available for Gordon, and he is cashing in. The Thunder can’t be careless with Gordon on the perimeter, or he’s going to burn them.
Will the Thunder’s Three-Point Shooting Stay Hot?
Oklahoma City has been an up-and-down outside shooting team this year. Guys like Russell Westbrook, Dennis Schroder and Terrance Ferguson are all extremely streaky and the team’s shooters are definitely below average, even though OKC is still around average in three-point attempts per game.
The Thunder have made 12 and 14 threes in their last two games, respectively, shooting better than 41 percent from downtown in both games. They had an excellent shooting stretch in late January where they shot at least 40 percent from three in eight straight games, but since then, this is the first time they have hit 40 percent in consecutive contests.
Houston just broke its own NBA record with 27 three-pointers against the Phoenix Suns. You know the Rockets are always going to take a lot of threes and they usually make a good chunk of them. OKC can’t be just trading two-point baskets for threes in this game.
Our Betting Preview’s Houston Rockets vs OKC Predictions & Picks Verdict
The Rockets’ recent play has just been too strong for me to bet against them. Their threes are falling at a very good clip and their defense has been strong.
Even though OKC is at home and may have more to play for because they want to avoid the Golden State Warriors in the first round, I can’t ignore Houston’s recent domination of its opponents. Until the Rockets show any signs of slippage, I’m assuming they will beat their opponents soundly, especially an inferior team like OKC.
These teams will treat this a lot like a playoff matchup with slow-paced basketball, which benefits Houston. The Rockets have James Harden and Chris Paul, two elite half-court offensive players who love to exploit mismatches. This is how the Houston Rockets vs Thunder predictions pan out:
- The Rockets are the 1-point favorite. I advise betting on the Rockets -1pts @ -115 with 5Dimes, who are the only one of the United States’ offshore sportsbooks to be offering odds on the game at the time of writing this preview.
- A slow pace means fewer points. Both squads also have the individual defenders to make points hard to come by. You should bet the under 225.5pts @ -115 with 5Dimes.
Jared is a lifelong sports fan and writer whose specialist subject is NBA. A 2015 graduate of Indiana Wesleyan University, with a bachelor’s degree in journalism, Jared has been a sought-after freelance sports writer. In addition to his valuable USA Betting contributions, he has also written for other top media outlets.