The Oklahoma City Thunder’s defensive pressure has been outstanding lately. Coach Scott Brooks was pleased to see that same intensity during his team’s most recent practice.
With a chance to move into a first-place tie in the Northwest Division, the Thunder go for their fourth consecutive victory Wednesday night against the Houston Rockets, who have reportedly added an under-achieving former first-round pick to an improving squad.
Coming off a 106-77 victory over Cleveland on Sunday when they held the Cavaliers to 32 second-half points on 26.5 percent shooting from the field, the Thunder (17-8) had their most physical practice of the season Tuesday.
“It was good. It was a little chippy today,” Brooks said. “Our guys aren’t normally are not like that (in practice), but I like it. I like to see the toughness that needed to be displayed in order to be successful.
“… The contact part of practice wasn’t long, but when it was, guys were getting after it and challenging each other. That’s good basketball.”
The Thunder, who can pull even in the Northwest with idle Utah, are holding teams to 90.7 points - 11.2 fewer than their season average - and 41.0 percent shooting in last three games.
“I thought our defensive effort was great tonight,” Kevin Durant(notes), the league’s leading scorer with 27.3 points per game, said Sunday. “We played well on both ends of the floor and our defense tonight led to some easy baskets for us.”
The Thunder are averaging 104.7 points and shooting 51.8 percent in the last three games, and they are undefeated in 13 games this season when scoring at least 105.
Reaching that point total could be a challenge the way Houston (10-14) is playing. Including Tuesday’s 118-105 victory over Sacramento, the Rockets are holding teams to 95.0 points - nearly 10 fewer than their 2010-11 average - in the last four games.
While Houston has won six in a row at home, coach Rick Adelman’s team opens this stretch of four of five on the road with just one victory away from Toyota Center since Nov. 14.
Making their first visit to Oklahoma City since a 116-99 loss on Nov. 17, the Rockets will unlikely have Terrence Williams(notes) available after reportedly acquiring the troubled swingman Tuesday from New Jersey as part of a three-team deal involving the Los Angeles Lakers.
Williams is averaging 6.7 points in 10 games this season and has been fined for being late to practices and sent home from one game for failure to follow team rules. He also played a couple of games in the D-League.
Despite participating in the majority of Monday’s practice, Rockets point guard Aaron Brooks(notes) is expected to miss his 20th consecutive game with a severely sprained left ankle. That leaves Kyle Lowry(notes) with the task of guarding Russell Westbrook(notes), who is having a career year with 23.6 points per game and 8.8 assists.
Westbrook scored 23 with 10 assists as the Thunder dropped their 11th in a row in Houston, 99-98 on Nov. 28.
If Thunder center Nenad Krstic(notes) misses his third straight game with a lower back sprain, Serge Ibaka(notes) will likely get the start and guard Luis Scola(notes), who had 26 and eight rebounds in last month’s loss in Oklahoma City.
Ibaka grabbed a team-high eight boards in each of the two matchups with Houston this season.