Thunder at Cavaliers (8pm ET Thursday, TNT)
Having won their last 6 games, and 10 of their last 12, the Oklahoma City Thunder are riding high. The most recent victory came Wednesday at the expense of the Portland Trailblazers, as Kevin Durant led the way with 24 points on 8-of-14 shooting. Their current winning streak – the longest in the league – has seen the Thunder turn up the intensity on D, as they’ve held their opponents to less than 100 points in each game.
Coming off Tuesday’s 89-77 victory over the Boston Celtics (who simply couldn’t find their shot), the Cleveland Cavaliers are right where they should be, 16-7 and atop the Eastern Conference. LeBron continues to be LeBron, posting 26-8-6, and Kevin Love has returned from injury better than last year. Contrary to rumor, Kyrie Irving is not returning to action Thursday, as he still has a number of tests to pass before he’s ready to go. Irving’s return can’t come soon enough, as Iman Shumpert suffered a groin injury against Boston, in just his second game of the year.
Rockets vs. Lakers (10:30pm ET Thursday, TNT)
James Harden and the Rockets have suffered back-to-back losses to Denver and Sacramento, games that perfectly showcased their weaknesses, as they were outrebounded 99-62 and outshot .510 vs. .444. The Rockets’ D has allowed the highest field goal percentage in the NBA, and the third-most points per game, while being outrebounded, on average, 46-43. Additionally, no team in the league – not even the Golden State Warriors – has hoisted more 3’s than the Houston Rockets’ 826. Unfortunately, the Rockets only make 34% of them, versus the league average of 35%. Add it all up and the Rockets are 12-14, “good” enough for the 7 seed in the West.
To understand just how unhappy Rockets center Dwight Howard is, consider that following Tuesday’s loss to the Kings, he told reporters, “I haven’t said nothing to nobody about anything. I’ve been positive, trying to turn this thing around any way possible. People always going to make up lies or rumors to get off. But I haven’t said nothing or anything to anybody.”
The Los Angeles Lakers are coming off a rare win on Tuesday, outscoring the Bucks 113-95, as Kobe Bryant went 22-3-6, making 7 of 15 from the field and all 5 of his free throws. The Lakers are now 4-21, firmly entrenched in the Ben Simmons Sweepstakes. Jordan Clarkson, Julius Randle and D’Angelo Russell had better be taking notes on how to handle the grind of an 82-game season, cuz Kobe ain’t gonna be around much longer and someone is gonna need to be the grown up in the room when his departure causes the team’s average age to drop nearly 2 years.