Four of the NBA’s top 13 offenses will be on display Thursday night on TNT. The doubleheader features three of the game’s biggest stars in LeBron James, James Harden and Russell Westbrook.
There should be plenty of points and intriguing matchups, so here is a deeper look at the league’s national broadcast games for Thursday.
Cleveland Cavaliers at Houston Rockets
It’s too early to declare it a must-win game, but Cleveland really needs a good showing here.
We’ve seen Dwyane Wade call out the starting unit for slow starts, and the Cavs own the NBA’s worst defensive rating at 114.5 (points per 100 possessions). Things won’t get any easier with a trip to Houston and a James Harden-led offense that boasts the league’s fourth-best offensive rating at 110.8, trailing only the Warriors, Wizards and Clippers.
What should scare Cavs fans the most is the team’s perimeter defense. Cleveland has allowed the most three-point field goals in the NBA, with opponents shooting it at nearly 42 percent. That’s problematic against a Houston squad that has attempted more triples than any team in NBA history through 11 games, breaking its own record from last year. More than half of the Rockets shots have been from deep.
Since James returned to Cleveland his teams are just 2-4 against the Rockets. Five of those games have been decided by single digits.
In their first 10 games, the Cavs allowed 112 or more points eight times, posting a 2-6 record in those matchups. Houston has won three straight, scoring 119 or more points in all three contests.
This feels like a game King James simply won’t let Cleveland lose at the start of a four-game road trip. The Cavs won’t look great defensively, but they’ll get enough stops to pick up a huge road win and quiet some of the critics temporarily.
Oklahoma City Thunder at Denver Nuggets
Westbrook and the Oklahoma City Thunder have dominated Denver recently, winning 20 of the last 30 meetings and five straight trips to Denver. He’s averaged a triple-double in his last 12 meetings with Denver.
The Nuggets allowed 105 or more points in seven of their first 10 games, going 2-5 in that span. Oklahoma City has averaged 104.4 points through its first nine games.
Maybe the most important thing to note is how good the Thunder have been defensively, posting a 100.1 defensive rating which trails only Boston. Four of their first nine opponents failed to score 100 points.
The Thunder lost five of their first nine games, with each setback coming by single digits and three by four points or fewer. Finishing games with several new faces is something that can be learned by OKC. The fact that the team has defended at a high level and been efficient offensively is a great sign moving forward.
The Nuggets have struggled defensively, ranking 21st in defensive rating. However, Denver is one of the best offensive rebounding teams in the NBA, ranking seventh while the Thunder are just 27th in defensive rebounds.
Ultimately, Denver will have no answer for Westbrook or Paul George. The Thunder win.