The Houston Rockets have finally carved a spot in the playoff picture after months at the bottom of the West, yet they will be tested during their Christmas Day matchup against the Oklahoma City Thunder, the best rebounding team in the league and one of the top dogs in a ruthless Western Conference. Franchise star James Harden and coach Mike D’Antoni are in the same mental wavelength — cleaning the glass will be the team’s main objective as they take on this holiday tilt.
“That’s the game. That’s the game,” said Harden, according to Jonathan Feigen of The Houston Chronicle. “Obviously, we know how really good they are defensively, but rebounding. We limit them to one shot and get out in transition and get our 3s and layups in, that’s the style of play we want.”
The Rockets were out-rebounded by 20 by the Miami Heat in a dumbfounding loss that saw them lose more than merely a game, but also their star point guard Chris Paul to a Grade 2 hamstring strain.
Head coach Mike D’Antoni knows the point of emphasis more than anybody, confident that if his team can hit the boards, they can stun the Thunder, who sit third in the West at 21-11.
“We made that point; the one constant stat is when we rebound the ball well defensively, we’re a tough out,” said D’Antoni. “We need to keep concentrating on that, do a better job understanding you got to box out and all that.
“They’re No. 1 in (offensive) rebounding. They’ll be a test. That’s what they do. They offensive rebound.”
Harden and company will have to be physical and keep glass-cleaning hounds like Steven Adams, Nerlens Noel, and Jerami Grant away from the offensive boards. The Rockets fell 98-80 in their last meeting with OKC, and while they only saw one less offensive rebound than the Thunder, they had 13 less rebounds than their Western Conference foes and were already facing a 20-point deficit entering the fourth quarter.