PREVIEW: Rockets at Thunder- Feb. 15

Feb 4, 2023; Oklahoma City, Oklahoma, USA; Oklahoma City Thunder guard Shai Gilgeous-Alexander (2) drives to the basket against Houston Rockets forward Bruno Fernando (20) during the first quarter at Paycom Center. Mandatory Credit: Alonzo Adams-USA TODAY Sports

PREVIEW: Rockets at Thunder- Feb. 15

The Rockets will try to avoid entering the All-Star Break on a seven-game losing streak when they visit the Oklahoma City Thunder on Wednesday night. This is the third different losing streak of at least six games the Rockets have had this season, the longest of which reached 13 games. The Rockets lead the season series 2-1 despite losing by 32 points in Oklahoma City on Feb. 4.

Eye on the Thunder

Record: 27-29 (T-11th in Western Conference)

Offensive rating (rank): 113.9 (16th)

Defensive rating (rank): 113.0 (11th)

The Thunder remain in the thick of the play-in race in the Western Conference as the All-Star break approaches, and the West is so jumbled that while Oklahoma City currently sits in 11th place in the conference, the Thunder is just one game back of fifth place in the loss column and two losses back of fourth place. Coincidentally, the Thunder have lost to the Rockets twice this season, both coming inside Toyota Center, but the Thunder responded by scoring 153 points in their only meeting in Oklahoma City.

Matchup to watch: Jae’Sean Tate vs. Shai Gilgeous-Alexander

The Rockets held the NBA’s fifth-leading scorer to 24 points on 7-of-23 shooting when they beat the Thunder in Houston two weeks ago. Tate was a big reason for that, but he missed the game three nights later, and Gilgeous-Alexander lit the Rockets up for 42 points while again, taking 23 shots; only on this night he made 14 while attempting 15 free throws, five more than his season average. With Kevin Porter Jr. set to miss his 17th straight game and Eric Gordon now with the Clippers, Tate is the Rockets’ only guard that has a chance to slow the All-Star down, so it will be imperative that he stay out of foul trouble.

What I’m watching for

Alperen Sengun had one of his best games of the season when he scored 21 points and grabbed 19 rebounds against the Thunder in November, but he scored just 10 points in each of the last two games against Oklahoma City. With Porter hurt and Gordon gone, the Rockets’ offense cannot function without Sengun playing at a high level, but the Thunder pose a unique matchup because they don’t play a traditional center, and the length and quickness they can throw at him creates a problem which led to Sengun committing three turnovers in each game. Over the last 15 games, Sengun is averaging 46.6 frontcourt touches per game, 11.5 more than Jalen Green. The offense runs through Sengun, so how he handles the extra attention defenses are going to give him the rest of the season will help decide the Rockets’ success.

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