Had the playoffs begun today, the sixth-place Thunder would be playing the third-place Rockets in Houston. The playoffs are still nearly a month away, the Thunder played the Rockets in Houston, and the Rockets slapped them around unmercifully; you have to figure that if you come up with 59 points in the first half and you’re behind by 20, things are clearly not going well for you. The Rockets opened with a 9-0 run, shot more than 60 percent all day, hit twenty three-pointers, and a late Thunder rally couldn’t cut that margin down below eight points. Houston 137, Oklahoma City 125, the Rockets’ third victory in the four-game season series, and if this is a harbinger of things to come, OKC will have to be extremely lucky to make it to the second round.
They weren’t particularly unlucky today: the offense was good enough, after all, to come up with 125 points, six men in double figures, 50-percent shooting, and yet another Russell Westbrook triple-double (39-11-13). But defense was conspicuous by its absence, and if you think James Harden is tricky to guard, be grateful you weren’t assigned to follow Lou Williams around. Coming off the Rocket bench, Williams hit his first eight shots, finishing with a highly respectable 11-15, and knocking down seven of eight three-point tries for a total of 31. (Harden, by comparison, had a modest 22 points and 12 assists.) The Thunder were dominant on the boards, as usual, with 42 retrievals, 16 offensive — the Rockets garnered a total of 36 boards, two off the offensive glass — but it doesn’t really matter how many rebounds you can collect when the opponents are hitting 63 percent of their shots.
So game one of this road trip is a bust. Game two is tomorrow evening, in Dallas, followed by a Wednesday session in Orlando. The Thunder, having won 41 games, can finish no lower than .500. They’re going to have to prove they can do better than .500.