Thunder vs. Pelicans (8pm ET Thursday, TNT)
After a torrid 29-6 stretch heading into the All Star break, the Oklahoma City Thunder sputtered into the second half of the season, falling first to Indiana 101-98 on Friday, and then taking a 115-92 beating by the Cavs. But they bounced back with a 116-103 win over the Mavericks on Wednesday, as Russell Westbrook led the way with 24 points, 7 rebounds and 13 assists. At 41-16, the OKC Thunder have the third-best record in the West, and fourth-best record in the league.
Already ravaged by the loss of starters Tyreke Evans and Eric Gordon, the Pelicans’ rotation was further depleted over the weekend by backup center Omer Asik’s sprained ankle, which is expected to keep him out for two weeks. The Pelicans lost to the Wizards 109-89 on Tuesday in a game that saw New Orleans shoot .349 from the floor, and .261 from 3-point land – hard to believe that just a couple days earlier Anthony Davis had made 24 of 34 on his way to a career-high 59. The Pelicans are 22-34, good enough for 11th in the West, but 6 games out of the playoff picture. That said, they’ve played .500 ball since mid-December despite all the injuries – maybe some improved health and a full year under new coach Alvin Gentry will have them poised for better things next season.
Rockets vs. Trail Blazers (10:30pm ET Thursday, TNT)
It’s hard to believe that during the 2011-12 season, then-22-year-old James Harden was one of the best shooters in the league, making 57.9% of his 2-point shots and 39% of his 3’s. Fast-forward through a trade to Houston, a fling with a Kardashian, and a few years, and he’s now one of the league’s most notorious chuckers, his shooting percentages falling to 48.6% and 34.9%. If he was still shooting at his old pace, he’d be leading the NBA with 31.4 points per game. Instead, he’s second at 28.3, he’s gotten a Hall-of-Fame player fired as his coach, his team is 28-29, they’ve lost 3 or more in a row 6 times (6!) and they’re a half-game out of the last playoff spot. On Tuesday, a rare night when he shot better than 50%, he scored 42 in a losing effort to the Jazz, as the Rockets fell 117-114 in OT.
The Trail Blazers have been blazing trails through the NBA for a month now, winning 11 of 12 – including a 137-105 beatdown of the mighty Warriors last Friday, on a night when Damian Lillard scored a Curry-esque 51 on 18-of-28 shooting, adding 7 assists and 6 steals – lifting themselves from 10th to 6th in the West, and bringing their record to 30-27. Lillard has been out of his head during this resurgence, averaging 27.9 points per game, including 30 or more his last five games in a row. Man, if these guys had a legit big man, someone like, hmmm… LaMarcus Aldridge, maybe, they could do some real damage.