Rockets-Thunder Game 2 Preview: Free the Beard

Can his shot get going? (USATSI)
More of the same in Game 2? (USATSI)

Previewing Game 2 of the Rockets-Thunder first round series.

1. Where We're At: The Thunder are up 1-0 on the Rockets, and did it in incredibly impressive fashion. Or if you're the Rockets, humiliating fashion. Houston just didn't handle the pressure and intensity the Thunder threw at them from the tip, falling behind 13-2 and going almost seven minutes without their first basket. The Rockets managed to tie the game back up 40-40, but the Thunder exploded before halftime and then again in the third quarter. The Rockets couldn't keep up as James Harden and Jeremy Lin suffered through a miserable combined 7-26 shoothing night, which included only three second half points from Harden.

2. The Big Number: 22. The Rockets took 36 3-pointers, and made only eight. That's 22 percent. The best way for the Rockets to neutralize and answer the Thunder is with the 3-point shot. Except they have to make them. Firing almost 40 is fine, but making only eight just results in a lot of long rebounds and potential runouts for OKC. The Rockets beat the Thunder once in the regular season, and made 15 3s in the game. If they want to beat OKC a game in this series, that's going to have to happen.

3. Key Adjustment: The Rockets really struggled with handling OKC's defensive tactic of switching bigs on pick-and-rolls. Kevin McHale talked about it postgame and admitted that it baited the Rockets into playing way too much one-on-one, as their ballhandlers assumed they could attack OKC's big men off the dribble. Instead of moving the ball with quick catch-and-drives or pass-pass combinations, the Rockets got stagnant and isolated far too much. Obviously the Thunder knew what they were doing and will likely bring that same approach in Game 2, so we'll see how Houston plans to adjust to attacking it this time.

4. The Big Story: Can James Harden shake loose of the Thunder? Especially in OKC? In two games playing in his old town, Harden has gone for 37 points on 9-35 shooting. The Rockets really only have a chance to keep up with the Thunder if Harden plays outstanding basketball. Harden skirted giving his old team any credit for Game 1, instead blaming the Rockets' lack of experience and youth as the reason for a shaky performance. Harden even went so far to say losing the way they did was good for them. Maybe so, but if the Rockets are going to bounce back, Harden has to perform. The Thunder are going to key on him completely, but he's shown he can shake loose regardless (46 on 19 shots against OKC in February). The hopes for Houston reside in that beard. Harden has to be great.

5. The Facts: 7:00 p.m. ET start time. Both teams should be at full strength.

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