Paul George, Thunder Crush James Harden's Rockets Without Russell Westbrook

Kyle Newport@@KyleNewportFeatured ColumnistNovember 9, 2018

OKLAHOMA CITY, OK - NOVEMBER 8: James Harden #13 of the Houston Rockets looks to pass the ball during the game against Paul George #13 of the Oklahoma City Thunder on November 8, 2018 at Chesapeake Energy Arena in Oklahoma City, Oklahoma. 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. Mandatory Copyright Notice: Copyright 2018 NBAE (Photo by Zach Beeker/NBAE via Getty Images)
Zach Beeker/Getty Images

The Oklahoma City Thunder extended their winning streak to seven games Thursday by defeating the Houston Rockets, 98-80, at Chesapeake Energy Arena.

Paul George (20 points, 11 rebounds, six assists and six steals) led the way for the Thunder, and Steven Adams contributed 19 points and 10 rebounds.

James Harden had 19 points, five assists and eight rebounds for the Rockets, and Chris Paul added 10 points, five assists and six steals. Carmelo Anthony had two points and five rebounds in his return to OKC.

            

OKC Proves It's More Than One-Man Show

Former NBA MVP Russell Westbrook has missed the last two games because of an ankle injury, but that hasn't stopped the Thunder's winning streak.

In fact, it has given OKC an opportunity to show how dangerous it can be.

Westbrook is having another strong season, averaging 24.1 points, 8.9 assists and 8.3 rebounds in 2018-19. That type of production is tough to replace, but George and Co. have been more than up for the task.

After an 18-point, seven-rebound performance in a win over the Cleveland Cavaliers on Wednesday, George played even better against the star-studded Rockets. He helped his team take a 14-point lead into the locker room with a solid all-around effort, notching 17 points, five rebounds, four assists and four steals in the first half.

People have come to expect that type of effort from the five-time All-Star. However, George wasn't the only one who came to play.

Adams, Dennis Schroder (14 points), Terrance Ferguson (14), Raymond Felton (10) and Jerami Grant (11) also reached double figures, giving the Rockets more than they could handle. Ferguson, a second-year guard, entered having made just five of 22 attempts from beyond the arc through his first 10 games; against Houston, he made four triples.

That made life easy for "coach Russ":

There's no question Oklahoma City will need Westbrook healthy to contend for a championship. However, Thursday night proved the Thunder have plenty of talent around their superstar.

       

Rockets Need to Start Carmelo to Maximize His Skill Set

OKLAHOMA CITY, OK - NOVEMBER 8: Carmelo Anthony #7 of the Houston Rockets passes the ball during the game against the Oklahoma City Thunder on November 8, 2018 at Chesapeake Energy Arena in Oklahoma City, Oklahoma. NOTE TO USER: User expressly acknowledge
Zach Beeker/Getty Images

Anthony has 10 All-Star selections and a scoring title on his resume, but he looks like a different player coming off the bench for Houston.

It's time to change things up.

Although he had averaged a respectable 14.3 points on 47.5 percent shooting off the bench entering Thursday, he hasn't scored with the same flair as we're used to. Only three times has he made at least 50 percent of his shots while coming off the bench this season.

Those struggles continued in a big way Thursday, as he went 1-of-11 from the field (and 0-of-6 from three-point range) against the Thunder.

At first glance, inserting a player who made just one shot in his last game into the starting lineup may seem odd. But he's struggling to adapt to his role. Meanwhile, the team's offensive rating has been 3.9 points higher when Anthony has been on the court (105.1) than when he's off (101.2).

Houston entered the game ranked 25th in the league in scoring, and both Paul and Eric Gordon are shooting below 40 percent from the field.

Thursday night's season-low 80 points marked the third time the team has been held under 90. That's unfamiliar territory for Mike D'Antoni's squad, as ESPN's Tim MacMahon pointed out:

Of course, giving Anthony a bigger role won't help a unit that ranks 22nd in defensive rating (110.1), including a net of negative-10.3 when he's on the court. However, as the team is allowing the fourth-most points in the paint in the NBA, it will have to outscore opponents given its roster construction.

Losing Trevor Ariza and Luc Mbah a Moute during the offseason has been a big blow. As the starting lineup is struggling to string together wins, it's time for D'Antoni to try to get both Anthony and the Rockets into a rhythm before they dig themselves too large of a hole. 

            

What's Next

Both squads will be back in action Saturday, as the Rockets (4-6) wrap up a five-game road trip against the San Antonio Spurs and the Thunder (7-4) hit the road for a game against the Dallas Mavericks.

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