Thunder vs Rockets: Houston Must Win to Have Any Chance of Advancing

Joseph Zucker@@JosephZuckerFeatured ColumnistApril 24, 2013

OKLAHOMA CITY, OK - APRIL 21:  Kendrick Perkins #5 and Russell Westbrook #0 of the Oklahoma City Thunder battle for a loose ball with Jeremy Lin #7 of the Houston Rockets during the first half of Game One of the Western Conference Quarterfinals of the 2013 NBA Playoffs at Chesapeake Energy Arena on April 21, 2013 in Oklahoma City, Oklahoma. The Thunder defeated the Rockets 120-91. NOTE TO USER: User expressly acknowledges and agrees that, by downloading and or using this photograph, User is consenting to the terms and conditions of the Getty Images License Agreement.  (Photo by Christian Petersen/Getty Images)
Christian Petersen/Getty Images

If the Houston Rockets have any chance of making it to the next round, they'll need to beat the Oklahoma City Thunder in Game 2.

Game 1 was a disaster for Houston offensively. The Rockets only shot 36.3 percent from the field, including 8-of-36 from three-point range. James Harden was the only starter in double figures, and he only shot 6-of-19.

Houston's barren shooting was a stark contrast to the Thunder, who made 53.0 percent of their shots.

The Rockets will need to steal a game in the Chesapeake Arena, and Game 2 is as good an opportunity as any.

It's realistic to expect the shooting to improve, but how much better will the Rockets be defensively? Let's not forget Houston allowed opponents to score an average of 102.5 points a game (28th in the league).

The only hope the Rockets have is to outshoot the Thunder. If that's to happen, hitting shots early is imperative.

Postseason pressure seemed to eat the Rockets alive, and they didn't play their natural game. According to Jerome Solomon of the Houston Chronicle, the players are remaining pretty upbeat:

"We're a confident group," said point guard Jeremy Lin, who was at his worst with a nervous, cotton-mouthed effort on Sunday. "Obviously, last night did not go the way we wanted it to go. But it was a lot of our (players') first playoff game. Hopefully, that'll be, (for) a lot of us, our worst game of the series.

"A loss is a loss. As long as we learn from it, it'll be good for us."

Harden and Kevin McHale both echoed Lin's sentiments.

It's good for the players to remain positive, but that doesn't change the fact that the Houston Rockets team that showed up on Sunday must make vast improvements in order to stay alive in this playoff series. Going down 2-0 to the Thunder would create an almost insurmountable gap, even over a seven-game series.

There looks to be plenty of validity to the belief that jitters got the better of Houston in Game 1. That's why getting off to a fast start on Wednesday night is so vital. It will give the players the necessary belief they can be competitive in this series. Maybe, just maybe, Houston can upset the heavily favored Thunder. It wouldn't be the first time a No. 8 seed would have beaten a No. 1 seed.

Conversely, things are not going to get any better if the team continues its poor shooting. Lin can talk about being "a confident group" all he wants, but even professional basketball players will start to question their chances after another blowout. The hole will only get bigger, leading Lin, Harden and Chandler Parsons to attempt more unnecessary three-pointers that brick out.

The Rockets will be stuck in quicksand. The harder they try to fight out of it, the deeper and deeper they will sink.