NBA: Houston Rockets at Oklahoma City Thunder Preview, Predictions, Betting Picks

Russell WestbrookThe 15-7 Houston Rockets visit the 14-8 Oklahoma City Thunder tonight in a matchup between two solid teams featuring serious MVP candidates (8:05pm ET Friday on ESPN). The Rockets come into this game with four straight wins, while the Thunder are on a six-game winning streak.

James Harden is doing everything for Houston (28.5 points, 7.5 rebounds and 11.4 assists per game) and Russell Westbrook (pictured) is averaging a triple-double for Oklahoma City (31.0 points, 10.9 rebounds and 11.3 assists per game).

While both teams revolve their attacks around their superstars, other things have been going well too. Houston has several capable three-point shooters around Harden to help the team earn a fourth-place offensive rank, while the Thunder are full of strong defenders, leading them to a No. 4 ranking in defense.

This preview now details the main elements that could decide the outcome of this NBA game before deciding on our picks and betting predictions.

Which Superstar Plays More Efficiently?

Harden and Westbrook should each score at least 20 points, grab six rebounds and dish out 10 assists. Both should go much higher in one or more of those categories. It’s just what we’ve come to expect from them in 2016-17.

However, both players aren’t immune to inefficiency. Harden and Westbrook are each averaging 5.6 turnovers, which is a lot even for guys who handle the ball as much as they do. Both are on pace to shatter the single-season record for turnovers, which is Harden’s 374 last season (4.6 per game).

Which defense will capitalize on Harden’s and Westbrook’s sometimes-careless passing and ball-handling? That squad will be able to get out in transition more frequently, leading to easy shots galore.

Will the Rockets Be Hot From Three-Point Range?

We’re getting to the point in the NBA where this is a big key for any given game. Teams are embracing the three-point shot more and more every year. However, the Rockets take it to a level higher than anyone else in the league.

Houston takes a league-high 42.9 percent of its field-goal attempts from outside the arc (that also happens to be the highest mark in NBA history). In wins, the Rockets make 39.7 percent of their attempts from downtown, but that number plummets to 33.6 percent in losses.

Good defense will play a small role in this, but the Rockets also have several snipers who will drain trifectas at about the same rate regardless of how well they’re being contested. It’s especially true for Harden, Ryan Anderson and Eric Gordon, all of whom take more than six three-pointers per contest. Oklahoma City will have to hope its opponent doesn’t get into a rhythm from outside.

Can Anybody Stop Enes Kanter?

The Thunder possess a devastating offensive weapon off its bench in Kanter, who averages 12.8 points and 6.0 rebounds in just 19.3 minutes per game while shooting 56.4 percent from the field and 78.5 percent from there free-throw line.

Which Houston reserve matches up well enough to deal with the 6’11” Kanter’s strength and relentless? Not anyone, really. Nene is probably the closest, but he’s far past his prime at 34 years old. His defense has regressed significantly in the past few years.

Everyone knows Kanter is a dreadful defender, but his work scoring in the post and rebounding the ball changes games occasionally. He already has three 20-point, 10-rebound games this season, and very well could add to that total Friday.

Our Preview’s Houston Rockets vs Oklahoma City Thunder Picks & Betting Predictions

In a matchup between two hot, very evenly-matched teams, it’s hard not to go with the home team. That squad will have the energy of its fans cheering it on and the comfort of being in a familiar place. Both teams are adequately rested and have no significant injury issues.

  • Most of the top USA friendly online bookies have the Rockets favored, but the Thunder +1pt looks a good bet. Home-court advantage is worth something and I’m surprised they aren’t favorites. Bet on Oklahoma City Thunder +1pt @ -110 with Bovada, 5Dimes or BetOnline.
  • The over-under on the total points for this contest is mostly commonly posted at 226, which seems a bit high. Yes, both teams play on the faster side, but if you merely add together their points per game averages, it comes out to just under 220. I think both teams will make a concerted effort to stop each others’ transition attacks, which makes betting the under the recommended choice. Go under 226pts @ -110 with 5Dimes or BetOnline.