- The Rockets were quite thin at the point guard position during Wednesday’s win over the Pelicans with Aaron Brooks and Patrick Beverley (fractured right hand) sidelined, but Houston will have a bit more back-court depth in Thursday’s matchup with the Thunder. Brooks will return to the lineup after sitting out Wednesday with right-knee tendonitis, providing coach Kevin McHale with a suitable, experienced backup to Jeremy Lin.
- McHale said he is open to trying several strategies to limit the production of the NBA’s leading scorer, Oklahoma City forward Kevin Durant, including trapping the 6-foot-10 forward. “We’ll try some different stuff,” McHale said. “A lot of times trapping is the thing to do, sometimes trapping’s not the thing to do because of who you are trapping. … He takes shots that sometimes you just got to shake his hand and say, ‘That’s a helluva shot.’ We’ll try to double team him at times. We’ll play him head up, try to deny him. … Hopefully one of those things takes hold and gives us a chance.”
- The Thunder (28-10), losers of a season-high three straight on the road, are in Houston for the first time since they eliminated the Rockets (26-14) in the first round of last year’s Western Conference playoffs with a come-from-behind victory in Game 6. Like then, Oklahoma City is relying heavily on Reggie Jackson because All-Star point guard Russell Westbrook (right knee surgery) is not available. Jackson has struggled to defend opposing guards while filling in for Westbrook, and coach Scott Brooks hinted that the third-year guard needs to place more emphasis on that end of the court. “I think he’s coming along,” Brooks said. “People look at how [Jackson has] a lot of athleticism … but the nuts and bolts of our team are at the defensive end. Those are the things that we have to do nightly.”
- Houston’s James Harden has cranked his level of aggression up a notch during the second half of games while leading the Rockets to a 5-1 record in January. The 6-foot-5 guard is averaging 17.3 points on 51.8 percent shooting after halftime this month on the heels of pouring in 10 points in the final 4:26 of Wednesday’s victory.
– Matt Miller