It seems fitting that, in the Oklahoma City Thunder's toughest month of the season, a road trip to Houston would find its way onto the schedule.
The Thunder has never won at Houston. The last time the franchise defeated the Rockets inside the Toyota Center the team was the Seattle SuperSonics. That win came on Feb. 22, 2005.
James Harden and Serge Ibaka were 15 years old, Kevin Durant and Russell Westbrook were juniors in high school and Nick Collison and Royal Ivey were rookies.
Wednesday night, the Thunder hopes to snap what's ballooned into an 11-game losing streak at Houston.
“That's going to be a tough matchup for our guards and our bigs,” Harden said. “We're going to have to go down there and play a complete game.”
The Rockets longest winning streak against any opponent also is against the Thunder franchise, a 13-game streak from Jan. 3, 2007 to Dec. 19, 2009.
“They've been good for a while now,” said Thunder coach Scott Brooks. “All the games seem to be close.”
The Thunder lost 99-98 in its last visit to Houston on Nov. 28. Kevin Durant missed a 20-foot jumper at the final buzzer that would have won it for the Thunder.
But the Thunder looked lethargic in the first half of that loss, a problem that has appeared in several of Oklahoma City's defeats during the streak. The Rockets have simply out-hustled the Thunder on several occasions, playing scrappier and smarter for longer stretches.
Houston, however, also has some tough matchups for the Thunder.
The Thunder has yet to find a way to corral Rockets forward Luis Scola on the inside, and small and shifty guards Aaron Brooks and Kyle Lowry have made things difficult for the Thunder on the perimeter. Meanwhile, in forward Shane Battier, the Rockets have an elite perimeter defender to stick on Durant to try to hound the league's leading scorer into an off night.
“They have good players,” Brooks said. “Battier is a good defender. Scola's as smart and crafty as any (power forward) in the league, and he gives us problems like he gives the league problems. And the (Jordan) Hill kid has stepped up and started to play good basketball. And their backcourt is good.”
The Thunder is likely to catch a break Wednesday night. Rockets leading scorer Kevin Martin missed Monday's game at Boston with a sprained right wrist and is doubtful tonight. Martin averaged 21.3 points in the first three games of the series with the Thunder.
But the Thunder lost to the Rockets on Nov. 28 despite Aaron Brooks, Houston's third leading scorer, being out of the lineup with an ankle injury. Aaron Brooks returned Monday and scored 24 points in an upset win at Boston, handing the Celtics just their second home loss since the Thunder's five-point win on Nov. 19.
“Brooks is really good,” Scott Brooks said. “He's a 20-point scorer. They've missed him most of the year with his injuries. He was a big part of their win in Boston and we have to do a good job of keeping him from getting easy shots and that's not easy. He is as quick as anybody and he has a great handle. He gets into the paint and scores around the basket and he's a great 3-point shooter.”
Thunder at Rockets When: 7:30 p.m. Wednesday Where: Toyota Center, Houston TV: FS Oklahoma (Cox 37, HD Ch. 722) Radio: WWLS-FM 98.1, WWLS-AM 640 Three things to know * This is the fourth and final meeting between the teams. The Thunder leads the season series 2-1, and lost by one point at Houston on Nov 28. * Rockets guard Aaron Brooks returned to the lineup Monday after a three-game absence caused by an ankle injury. Houston guard Kevin Martin, however, missed Monday's game at Boston because of a sprained right wrist. * Kevin Durant has averaged 24.7 points in the first three games against Houston this season.