NBA: Rockets look to maintain mastery of Thunder

The Houston Rockets posted the NBA’s worst record last season, and they have the worst mark again this season.

However, the Rockets have owned the Oklahoma City Thunder.

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Over the past two seasons, the Rockets are 5-1 against the Thunder, including a 112-106 victory in Houston on Wednesday. Houston is 28-100 against the rest of the NBA during that span.

The teams square off again on Saturday, this time in Oklahoma City.

Thunder guard Shai Gilgeous-Alexander is coming off one of his worst shooting performances of the season, as he went 7 of 23 in the loss to Houston. He wound up with 24 points thanks to a 10-of-10 effort at the foul line.

On Thursday, Gilgeous-Alexander was named an NBA All-Star for the first time in his career.

“I actually think the power of his growth is how consistent it’s been over time,” Thunder coach Mark Daigneault said of Gilgeous-Alexander. “Obviously he went from non-All-Star to an All-Star, and that feels like a huge jump, but his growth has not been this huge jump. His growth has been very steady and consistent.

Gilgeous-Alexander has elevated his scoring annually throughout his five-season NBA career. He is averaging 30.8 points per game, which ranks fifth in the league, and has also turned things up on defense this season, averaging 1.7 steals (tied for fifth in the NBA) and 1.1 blocks — both career highs.

Rockets coach Stephen Silas expects a similar progression from his leading scorer, Jalen Green, who is in his second season.

“This is year five for Gilgeous-Alexander,” Silas said. “Things can change once a player gets stronger and finds areas of his game where they can attack. And that will happen with Jalen for sure.”

Green is averaging 21.7 points after putting up 17.3 points per game as a rookie last season. His rebounding and assist numbers are also up.

Green missed the past three games due to a bruised right calf, including Houston’s 117-111 home loss to the Toronto Raptors on Friday. Silas said the 20-year-old guard has a chance to return for the second night of the back-to-back set.

“Fingers crossed for tomorrow, and if not tomorrow, it’ll be Monday,” Silas said Friday of Green’s availability.

Kevin Porter Jr. (left foot contusion) remains out for Houston.

The Rockets also might be without Jae’Sean Tate and Eric Gordon, who both played on Friday, with Gordon scoring a team-high 28 points.

Tate has been battling a right ankle injury. Gordon has played both ends of a back-to-back on just two of eight opportunities this season.

The Thunder’s best defender, Luguentz Dort, will miss his fourth consecutive game because of a right hamstring strain.

In the Rockets’ loss to Toronto, Houston was outrebounded for the first time in nine games. The eight-game streak of outrebounding opponents was tied for the franchise’s longest since December 1997.

Houston outrebounded Oklahoma City 65-52 on Wednesday, with each team posting 24 offensive rebounds — the first time both teams reached at least 24 in a regulation game since 2003.

The Rockets are 1-7 on the second night of a back-to-back this season, with the only win coming against the Thunder on Nov. 26. Houston has won the first two of four meetings this season.

The Thunder have dropped four of their past six overall while the Rockets had their two-game winning streak snapped on Friday.

–Field Level Media

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