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James Harden and hot Houston Rockets primed to overthrow OKC Thunder? Tuesday night 3/11 should tell us how the West will be won.

Our Experts Discuss the Thunder, the Rockets, the Spurs and the NBA

Dean Lake
Dean Lake
Editor

After crushing the Indiana Pacers Friday night, the Houston Rockets have heated up and look to overtake the Thunder and San Antonio Spurs as the NBA season heads down the home stretch. Healthy and winning with a blend of defense and an offense with the two quality options of Dwight Howard and James Harden, the Rockets are more and more looking like the team to beat in the NBA West. Houston will face Portland at home Sunday before travelling to face Oklahoma City in a critical match up on Tuesday 3/11. A couple Rockets wins would not only serve as a sign of things to come playoff time, but would create a tight race at the top of the West between the teams and the Spurs.

Oklahoma City has struggled of late, losing 4 of their last 7 which included giving up 125 points to the Clippers and 128 to the Suns. The Thunder seemed to be trying to find their identity again after the return of Russell Westbrook. The Rockets, on the other hand, have hit their groove and won 14 of their last 16, beating Miami and San Antonio during that stretch. The NBA betting odds at TopBet Sportsbook will be released soon, but I would not be shocked to see the Rockets and Thunder match up as a toss up (or near it) come Tuesday, especially if the Thunder struggle against the Lakers on Sunday. The smart money should erase any natural home court advantage for OKC.

Before anyone gets any ideas that the Rockets will easily take care of business in OKC, remember they were whipped by the Thunder twice this year, by 31 and by 12. Westbrook didn't play in either of those games, but it is difficult say whether he will be a help Tuesday considering the the Thunder's current chemistry issues. At the very least, the Thunder have the psychological edge of going 2-0 against Howard and Harden.

Who do you like in this clash of titans in the West? What do you think the spread should be? Do you think the winner has a leg up in the West over the other? Over the Spurs and Clippers?

Steve Ausburne
Steve Ausburne
Editor

The Rockets are choosing the right time to hit their stride. Championships are often won by the team that peaks when it counts and Houston is looking to be doing just that. If Howard can maintain tough play in the middle, they have a lot of the pieces to challenge the best in the West.

Nick Fequiere
Nick Fequiere
Columnist

Houston is definitely getting into gear. I just hope that they're not peaking too soon and they end up not having enough left for the last stretch of the regular season as well as the playoffs. With them being a young, healthy team though, I think they'll be energized come playoff time. I've heard people talk about how their style of play won't be conducive to winning in the postseason, but they have two superstars: one who has incredible defensive presence, the other who can often score at will. Chandler Parsons is an excellent playmaker for that team. Patrick Beverly is an above-average defender. They have the pieces, but I think they still need a little bit more experience playing with one another. Teams like the Spurs, Thunder, and even the Clippers have had time to go through postseasons and gel properly. I don't know if I see Houston making it to the conference finals, but they'll certainly be a tough out.

The Rockets and Clippers are making big moves right now, and it seems like the West is a toss up between a handful of teams

Dean Lake
Dean Lake
Editor

@Nick Fequiere You bring up a great point in that the Rockets haven't been to a playoff series with their current starting five, so there are some questions of whether they can continue with their success once the games become more intense defensively. It seems the Rockets are totally dependent on Howard; when he plays well the Rockets win, when he doesn't they struggle. Although I have seen a couple teams beat the Rockets by letting Howard do what he wants and then they clamp down on everyone else.

As for Tuesday's game, I like the Rockets, but I think the initial point spread will favor the Thunder by 2 or 3.

Jasper Gillespie
Jasper Gillespie
Analyst

If the Rockets win on Tuesday, the top of the West will certainly by a tight race the rest of the way. I think it might actually open the door for the Spurs to take the #1 seed - if they can stay healthy. The Thunder look like the best team to be able to survive an injury to one of their starters, while Houston would sink if Harden or Howard go down.

I wouldn't bet on either team in Tuesday's Rockets/Thunder game. It should be a great, tight battle.

Orko Mookerjee
Orko Mookerjee
Analyst

The Rockets are looking amazing right now to my surprise. I think they have the upper hand on the Thunder at this time but it will still be a very close match.

What really comes to mind is these 2 teams possibly meeting during the Playoffs. If the Rockets manage to top OKC at that time I think Kevin Durant needs to seriously reevaluate where he should be. I also agree with @Nick Fequiere's concern. I think if the Rockets even get to the Conference Finals this year it will be a huge milestone for their organization as of late and will put them in the direct running for the title next year (Not to mention the amount of attention they will get with Free Agents or trade options if they were to do so).

Jacob Bronshteyn
Jacob Bronshteyn
Analyst

As others said, the Rockets have chosen a very good time to peak, and they can very overtake the Thunder with a few wins over top teams. However, I don't think the final regular season seedlings will make a difference in the playoffs. I'm doubtful that the Rockets can go far, as they have no experience in the postseason with their current team.

Obie Obumseli
Obie Obumseli
Senior Analyst

The Rockets are looking good right now but I don't like to overthink regular season games. We all know that the Spurs is the team to beat once playoff time rolls around and I don't think the Rockets could beat them four times in a seven games series. What will stop the Rockets from beating the Thunder or the Spurs is the fact that they don't have a point guard to slow the game down or get the ball to a scorer in clutch moments. Jeremy Lin and Patrick Beverley are nice but they are not the same caliber player of a Tony Parker or Russell Westbrook. I still expect the Spurs to come out the West or the Thunder because they have proven they can win in the playoffs whereas the Rockets haven't.

Raymond Lee
Raymond Lee
Columnist

I believe the Rockets are the real deal. Harden is ready to lead this team to a deep playoff run. I love Jeremy Lin as the heat check guy off the bench. If Harden decides to play defense in the playoffs, they will be even more dangerous. Everything is starting to mesh and players are knowing their roles. IF Asik becomes in shape again and can defend like we all know he can, that will be vital as well. Having a great defensive center in for 48 minutes will be beautiful come playoff time as well.

SaiSean Jones
SaiSean Jones
Analyst

As I observe Houston, OKC, Clippers, and Portand... here's what I see. I don't feel like Westbrook throws off "chemistry" per se, I think he and the team are trying to find their transitional way to implement him back into the rotation. I would have asked Westbook to come off the bench initially and left the starting lineup as it was. Once he got his legs under him in practice and in "game" shape after about a week of games, he'd start again. I think the Thunder will be a dominant force and has the best opportunity to take the west if their BENCH produces. Now with Houston, I agree that Harden needs to play both ends of the floor and has to be close to triple-double stats for Houston to be successful. I know that D12 is going to defend, however, with his sometime I'll be a 20-10 guy with 5 blocks and sometimes I'll miss free throws and pout attitude...he'll need to grow up if Houston has a shot to beat OKC or Portland. The Clippers just need time to develop. They added a few pieces in Glen Davis and Caron Butler for the stretch run and coach Rivers will figure out how to get the most from everybody, including DeAndre Jordan, for the Clippers run at West supremacy.

Krithic Annamalai

The Rockets and Clippers are making big moves right now, and it seems like the West is a toss up between a handful of teams.