Despite a slight slip-up this week, the Oklahoma City Thunder are in great shape to reach the postseason for the first time since moving from Seattle. The Houston Rockets’ string of three straight playoff berths, meanwhile, is in danger of ending.
Their shifting fortunes have yet to make an impact in the head-to-head series.
The banged-up Rockets are in dire need of a 14th consecutive victory over the Oklahoma City franchise Wednesday night, while the Thunder will be trying to avoid their first back-to-back home losses since mid-December.
The Thunder (42-27) are surprising contenders for the playoffs after losing 59 games last season, their inaugural one in Oklahoma City.
The franchise has not reached the postseason since the SuperSonics did it in 2005, but the Thunder are tied with San Antonio for sixth place in the Western Conference - five games ahead of ninth-place Memphis.
Oklahoma City suffered a rare loss at the Ford Center on Monday night, 99-96 to the Spurs. The club is 16-5 at home since last losing consecutive games there Dec. 13 and 16.
“There’s no moral victories but I’m proud of how we bounced back from not bringing anything last game to bringing that energy,” Durant said. “It’s something you’ve got to feel good about.”
Recent meetings with Houston, however, have rarely left the Thunder with good feelings. Durant was a high school senior and the team was based in Seattle the last time it beat the Rockets, 104-87 on April 4, 2006.
Houston can complete a four-game season sweep after holding the Thunder to 5 for 35 from 3-point range in the first three meetings.
“We just can’t beat them,” Oklahoma City rookie guard James Harden(notes) said after the most recent meeting, a 95-90 loss Dec. 19. “We’re missing something. You have to give Houston a lot of credit.”
Durant was held to 13 points in that contest and has averaged 21.7 points in the three games - 8.0 below his season average.
Houston, however, may have a more difficult time defending Durant given its weakened front line. Trevor Ariza(notes) may draw the bulk of that responsibility with Shane Battier(notes) out after injuring his knee during a 116-112 win at New York on Sunday.
“It’s huge,” Rockets coach Rick Adelman said. “We’re not a deep team to begin with. Jared’s been playing well defensively, Jordan’s been doing a nice job.”
The Rockets (36-33) couldn’t compensate against the Bulls, with the 10th-place club falling five games behind eighth-place Portland. Houston shot 33.7 percent from the field overall and 3 for 22 in the third quarter, when it was outscored 24-13 and lost the lead for good.
“Hopefully it’s just a one-quarter mistake, but if we play that way we’re going to lose against everybody,” forward Luis Scola(notes) said. “Even if we just play that way for one quarter, we’re probably going to lose against anybody.”