PREVIEW: Rockets at Thunder- Feb. 4

PREVIEW: Rockets at Thunder- Feb. 4

The Rockets could be without their four best guards when they visit the Oklahoma City Thunder on Saturday night. Kevin Porter Jr. will miss his 12th straight game with a left foot injury, Eric Gordon will not play the second night of a back-to-back after scoring 28 points on Friday against the Raptors, and Jae’Sean Tate could miss the game after playing 17 minutes on Friday, but Jalen Green could make his return from the calf injury that has forced him to miss the last three games.

Eye on the Thunder

Record: 24-27 (T-12th in Western Conference)

Offensive rating (rank): 112.9 (19th)

Defensive rating (rank): 112.1 (9th)

The Thunder haven’t played since losing at Toyota Center on Wednesday night. Since that game, Shai Gilgeous-Alexander was named to the All-Star team for the first time in his career. He’s averaging 30.8 points per game this season on 50.5 percent shooting. Josh Giddey, the sixth pick of the 2021 draft has taken a big step forward in his second NBA season, putting up 16 points and 8 rebounds each game. Oklahoma City has been without second overall pick Chet Holmgren all season due to a foot injury, and the Thunder will be without Lu Dort for a fourth straight game because of a hamstring strain.

Matchup to watch: Daishen Nix vs. Shai Gilgeous-Alexander

The Rockets held Gilgeous-Alexander to 24 points on 7-of-23 shooting on Wednesday night, and Nix was a big part of that. The Thunder guard scored six points while he was defended by Nix on 3-of-6 shooting, but Nix did not send him to the free-throw line. Nix, Gordon, and Jae’Sean Tate were the Rockets defenders assigned to Gilgeous-Alexander the most, but with Gordon unavailable and Tate likely unavailable, Nix will see his time against the NBA’s fifth-leading scorer go up.

What I’m watching for

The Rockets were a top 10 defensive rebounding team for the first 50 games of the season with a 72.7 defensive rebounding rate, but that number has cratered the last two games to 66.7%, leading to a combined 41-second chance points. Alperen Sengun is not a great defensive rebounder as it is, he averaged 5.7 over his first 45 games of the season, but that number has fallen to 4.5 in the last two games after he grabbed just two against the Raptors on Friday. One reason for the drop-off is the Thunder and Raptors rarely play a traditional center, so Sengun has been pulled away from the basket, but that’s no excuse. The Rockets need him crashing the defensive glass. Their margin of error is too small to give away second chances to superior teams.

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