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 …
“He's been on a rebounding tear the last (few) games. When he plays like that, aggressive on the glass, it seems to open up the other parts of his game and also the rest of the guys' games.”
BROOKS EXPLAINS HOW WESTBROOK TURNED IT ON LATE
Russell Westbrook's final 10 minutes Thursday against Dallas atoned for his horrendous play in his first 30.
His defensive intensity led to three game-changing steals and resulted in fast break baskets at the other end. After struggling with his shot throughout much of the game, Westbrook carried the Thunder in overtime by scoring eight of his 16 points in the extra period.
Where was that effort all game?
“Russell did a good job in that fourth quarter and overtime,” Brooks said. “And you can say ‘Well, why doesn't he do that for 48 minutes?' It's impossible to do that for 48 minutes. Nobody does. But what he did (Thursday) night in the fourth quarter was really special because it gave us a chance. Those steals and those easy opportunities in transition were a big part of the win.”
* Brooks said Westbrook's sore left wrist likely will be problematic for a while. Westbrook injured his wrist in a home game against San Antonio and since has played with it taped. Brooks also revealed that Westbrook is battling a sore knee.
* Kevin Durant posted a message to his Twitter account following Thursday's game that read: “I love Chesapeake Arena, best fans in sports.”
* The Thunder's 111-105 overtime victory over Dallas was its 11th straight home victory, the longest current home winning streak in the NBA.
* The Thunder is 11-3 when Westbrook and Durant both score at least 20 points.