Saturday night's showdown at Houston will be the second of three meetings between the Thunder and Rockets this season.
The Rockets have been hot of late, having won five straight games before Friday's contest at San Antonio. Former Thunder guard James Harden continues to excel in a leading role, ranking fourth in the league in scoring at 25.8 points per game.
The Thunder defeated the Rockets 120-98 inside Chesapeake Energy Arena on Nov. 28 and held Harden to 17 points on 3-for-16 shooting.
Aside from limiting Harden, perhaps the biggest key to winning in Houston is slowing down the Rockets' running game. Entering Friday's games, Houston ranked second in the NBA in fast break points at 18.1 per game, just a tenth of a point behind league-leading Denver.
So how does the Thunder combat Houston's run-and-gun game?
“First of all not turning the ball over,” said Nick Collison. “I think live-ball turnovers, they're really tough to get any stops if they're running off live-ball turnovers. If they're having to take it out of the net that's better. And then I think it just has to be a priority to get back and change directions.
“If the ball goes through the net, get back. If they get a rebound, get back. Those first two or three steps, getting turned and having them run into you is big. If they can look at four or five guys in the paint all night we'll be much better off.”
IBAKA'S REBOUNDING TEAR ‘OPENS UP HIS GAME'
Serge Ibaka continues to expand his game.
His rebounding is the latest thing to stand out.
Ibaka is averaging 9.7 rebounds in 11 games this month. He's averaged 12.3 rebounds in his last six games, including 17-rebound efforts twice over that span.
“We've talked about that,” Brooks said. “We've put some emphasis on that the last two or three weeks, not just with Serge but all of our bigs. We have to focus on getting ourselves some extra possessions and they have. The last (few) weeks we've had an uptick in that area And Serge has really been a big part of it …