Houston Rockets (7-7) vs. Oklahoma City Thunder (11-4)
Oh, hey there, James. Did not even notice you are gone. Why are you wearing red? There is a game tonight.
Huh? You got traded. I thought you looked less beard-y coming off the bench.
Tonight, James Harden returns to Oklahoma City for the first time since the trade at the beginning of the season that shook up the Thunder, the Rockets and the NBA.
Harden has been superb for the Rockets, leading them with 25.1 points per game and 5.4 assists per game. The increased minutes have led to an increase in production as Harden's per 36 minutes are up too.
It seems Harden was ready for a bigger role and he is taking full advantage of it in Houston.
The big difference, of course, is the record. The Rockets are sitting at .500 while the Thunder are racing out to the front of the Western Conference. Harden has to take the next step now as a team leader and start leading some wins.
Tonight, that will mean putting emotions aside and taking care of business. Harden said he will do that, but that could change if OKC shows him a lot of love at the beginning of the game and throughout. The Thunder might be a little too focused on shutting him down too. And that could be a problem for the Thunder's defense.
Or this could be a really good game.
Other Storylines to Watch
-Acting head coach Kelvin Sampson said Jeremy Lin's 16-point and 10-assist performance yesterday in a win over Toronto was his best of the season. It was just Lin's third 10-assist performance of the season and it was the kind of performance Houston hoped it would get when it signed Lin.
-According to Synergy, the Thunder dropped from first in pick and roll ballhandler efficiency to 27th. That is a pretty far fall. Why did this happen? James Harden remains the top player in that category.
Tonight's Other Games
Portland Trail Blazers (6-8) vs. Washington Wizards (0-12)
The Wizards are a confusing mess and frustration is starting to boil over as everyone tries to figure out what is going wrong. Some of it might be missing John Wall. Randy Wittman knows the buck will stop with him as head coach. He is sensing the pressure to end this losing skid and right the ship after Washington had Playoff aspirations entering the season.
San Antonio Spurs (12-3) vs. Orlando Magic (5-8)
There is a growing appreciation for the Spurs longevity of success. Unlike other superstar trios or long-running successful teams, there appears to be no ego and no discord among the three. Gregg Popovich has been Tim Duncan's coach for nearly a decade and there appears to be no break in their relationship. And the success keeps coming.
Brooklyn Nets (9-4) vs. Boston Celtics (8-6)
The Nets continue to take the NBA by storm and the marketing change that has occurred within the franchise is still quite impressive. This franchise has changed from perpetual loser to one of the early season surprises. People are excited to watch and talk about this team, particularly in New York. Tonight is another opportunity to announce their arrival with a road game against the Celtics.
Charlotte Bobcats (7-6) vs. Atlanta Hawks (8-4)
If you are Charlotte how do you respond to the rout the team suffered at Oklahoma City? That game was more than just a blowout, it was an embarrassment. That may not be good for this young team's psyche. Not good also is a rematch with an Atlanta team that beat Charlotte last weekend and put a halt to some of the good vibes coming out of the Queen City.
Phoenix Suns (7-8) vs. Detroit Pistons (4-11)
Phoenix is in a bit of a transition right now as there are questions about the team's post rotation. Alvin Gentry has moved Luis Scola to the bench for the first time since his rookie year, hoping to add more floor spacing and athleticism to the lineup. Gentry made sure to tell the press that it was not because Scola was struggling. Scola is living with it right now, but he sees it as a temporary role.
Dallas Mavericks (7-8) vs. Chicago Bulls (6-7)
O.J. Mayo always seemed to be tied to the Chicago Bulls in trade rumors with Chicago's never-ending quest to find a shooting guard to pair with Derrick Rose. The Grizzlies never ended up letting Mayo go to the Bulls and Mayo ended up signing as a free agent with the Mavericks. So Mayo heads to Chicago tonight as the main man in Dallas with Dirk Nowitzki out and coming off a disappointing effort in Philadelphia on Tuesday.
New York Knicks (9-4) vs. Milwaukee Bucks (7-5)
The Knicks may have lost the battle for New York the other night, but they are back on top in jersey sales. For the first time since 2004, the Knicks are the top-selling jersey in the NBA, according to the NBA's recent jersey statistics. Those numbers might be skewed some because the numbers come from the NBA Store in New York.
Toronto Raptors (3-12) vs. Memphis Grizzlies (10-2)
Jose Calderon has been very good this season. Having Kyle Lowry coming off the bench while he recovers from injury certainly helps. But the contract issue that put Calderon at the center of several trade rumors is still unresolved. Calderon is looking for a two- or three-year deal and probably a starting role.
Utah Jazz (8-7) vs. New Orleans Hornets (4-9)
Sunday while his Celtics were in Orlando, Doc Rivers joked that Austin Rivers was holding out on him by not displaying his rebounding ability. Rivers had six rebounds at Denver. Rivers is more known as a scorer and at that he is still adjusting to the NBA game. Hopefully being back in New Orleans after a West Coast swing will help him right that ship.
Minnesota Timberwolves (6-7) vs. Los Angeles Clippers (8-6)
Both of these teams got good injury news today. Chauncey Billups will make his return from a ruptured Achilles tonight. The Clippers just got a lot deeper. For the Timberwolves, the team announced Ricky Rubio is cleared for full-contact in practice. While he still might be a ways away from making his return to the court, this is very good news for both of these teams.