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Houston Looks to Silence Thunder

The Houston Rockets return home Saturday looking to cut Oklahoma City’s 2-0 series lead in half.

With news surfacing that Thunder point guard Russell Westbrook will miss the game, Kevin McHale’s team will be confident it can win its first home playoff game since 2009.

Tip-off is scheduled for 9:30 PM ET from the Toyota Center in downtown Houston.

Series Recap

Russell Westbrook's torn lateral meniscus could open the door for Houston to get back into the series.

Russell Westbrook’s torn lateral meniscus could open the door for Houston to get back into the series.

Houston’s first playoff campaign in four seasons got off to a rotten start. Outrun and outgunned by the No. 1 seed, the Rockets – one of the league’s most offensively minded teams – just couldn’t keep up with a Thunder side that saw Kevin Durant tally 24 points while Westbrook came close to a triple double (19pts, 8rebs, 10asts).

Oklahoma City shot 53.0 percent from the field while limiting Houston to a paltry 36.3 percent shooting, eventually winning by a blowout score of 120-91.

Game 2 was a much closer affair. Houston led the Thunder by two at the end of the third, and held on to the lead for much of the fourth quarter. James Harden (36pts, 11rebs, 6asts) spurred the team onwards, while the defense managed to tighten things up, to a degree at least. Westbrook and Durant still managed to score 29 apiece.

Westbrook made a go-ahead free-throw with 2:56 left on the clock, and the Thunder managed to hang on for a 105-102 victory. It may have been another loss for the Rockets, but the closeness at least gave the young team something to clinch onto.

The real legacy of Game 2 though came in the form of an injury to the unlikeliest of candidates.

Having never missed a game in his basketball life – from high school, through college, and into the pros – Russell Westbrook suffered a torn lateral meniscus in his right knee after Rockets’ rookie, Patrick Beverley collided with him at half-court. Innocuous enough for Westbrook to complete the game, the injury was discovered overnight and will sideline the All-Star for an unspecified length of time.

Game 3 Preview

Westbrook’s injury is the big news heading into Saturday night’s game.  The point guard is vital to the Thunder’s set-up, the team’s “engine” according to James Harden.

He averaged 23.2 points, 5.2 rebounds and 7.4 assists over the regular season. During the first two games of this series, he tallied averages of 24.0 points, 6.5 rebounds and 7.0 assists. Now the Thunder will have to select its first new point guard in more than five seasons.

Reggie Jackson is likely to get the call at backup. Jackson scored nine in Game 1 and six in Game 2 after averaging 5.3 points per game in 70 appearances this season. It’s likely he’ll get a fair amount of assistance from Derek Fisher, who sits on the Thunder bench with five NBA championship rings.

Houston meanwhile may be without starting point guard, Jeremy Lin. Lin – who hasn’t missed a start this season – has a bruised chest muscle and is listed as day-to-day. If Lin is absent, Beverley – who started Game 2 as part of a three guard set-up – is likely to take his place.

Houston will be happy to return to the Toyota Center, where the team recorded a 29-12 (.707) record this season. Oklahoma City was 26-15 (.634) on the road.

Houston’s last two home playoff games – back in May of 2009 – saw the side defeat the Los Angeles Lakers twice, the last of which forced a Game 7 in the Western Conference semifinals. The Lakers would ultimately go on to win that game and an NBA championship, sending Houston to a playoff drought.

Saturday night’s encounter will be the seventh time these two franchises have played a Game 3. During those previous meetings, Houston was 4-2 in Game 3, including a 2-1 record at home. Of course, this will be the first Game 3 the two sides have contested since Oklahoma City relocated from Seattle.

Houston's Jeremy Lin may also be out of Saturday's game, something bettors should consider.

Houston’s Jeremy Lin may also be out of Saturday’s game, something bettors should consider.

Betting Options

Oklahoma City enters the game as the favorite, but betting patterns have been shifting.

The spread opened at 3 but news of Westbrook’s injury now sees the Thunder as just a 1-point favorite with most bookmakers.

Oklahoma City (48-31-3 ATS) fared much better against the spread than Houston (41-40-1 ATS) did this season, taking a 2-1-0 ATS advantage over the Rockets during the regular season in the process.

However, the first two games of the series has seen each team cover the spread once, while Houston (24-17-0 ATS home) has a slight game day advantage over Oklahoma City (22-17-2 ATS road).

That being said, the Thunder has gone 46-30-2 ATS when considered the favorite, while Houston has compiled a 19-16-1 ATS record as the underdog.

The total opened at 211.5. That figure has dropped to 207 with a number of bookmakers in the wake of Westbrook’s injury.

207 –matching the final total of Game 2 – would mark the lowest start total when these two teams have played this season.

Before this series began, bettors would have been foolish not to back the over. After all, all three regular season meetings saw the total go over, by an average of 11.0 points nonetheless. However, both Game 1 and Game 2 saw the total go under. With some serious firepower missing from the Thunder, the under may be the smarter bet in Game 3.



GAME 1: Houston 91, Oklahoma City 120

GAME 2: Houston 105, Oklahoma City 112 (Oklahoma City leads 2-0)

GAME 3: Oklahoma City at Houston (Sat, Apr. 27, 9:30 PM ET)

GAME 4: Oklahoma City at Houston (Mon, Apr. 29, 9:30 PM ET)

GAME 5: Houston at Oklahoma City (Wed, May 1, TBC)*

GAME 6: Oklahoma City at Houston (Fri, May 3, TBC)*

GAME 7: Houston at Oklahoma City (Sun, May 5, TBC)*

*If necessary

Series winner meets winner of LA Clippers-Memphis in Western Conference semifinals.

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