Chet Holmgren, Thunder hope to stay hot vs. Rockets

Oklahoma City Thunder rookie Chet Holmgren had inconsistent performances his first two times playing against Houston. He gets his third shot against them Tuesday when the Rockets visit.

Holmgren had six blocks in his first game against the Rockets — Dec. 6 at Houston — but was just 2 for 9 from the floor, including missing all four of his 3-point tries. He finished with four points in the Thunder’s 110-101 loss.

On Sunday, the Rookie of the Year candidate showed a big improvement against Houston. Holmgren finished with 29 points, eight rebounds, seven assists and three blocks in Oklahoma City’s 123-110 victory.

Holmgren scored 19 points in the fourth quarter to help the Thunder to their fifth straight win. But Holmgren’s improvement was evident before the fourth.

“He was getting kind of the blender started for us with getting in and out of pick and rolls,” Oklahoma City coach Mark Daigneault said. “And I thought he played with great recognition, and we continue to do a better and better job of finding him when he’s open for three and when he’s around the basket.”

Holmgren hit five 3-pointers in Sunday’s win. In his last 10 games, Holmgren is averaging 18.9 points, 8.5 rebounds, 3.1 blocks and 2.6 assists, shooting 59.3 percent from the floor and 50.9 percent from beyond the arc.

“He’s a basketball player at the end of the day,” Oklahoma City guard Shai Gilgeous-Alexander said. “He can pass, shoot, dribble, even at his size.

“That’s who Chet is and who he’s been.”

The Thunder enter Tuesday tied with Minnesota atop the Western Conference.

While Oklahoma City continues to surge, Houston is still looking for consistency. The Rockets have dropped seven of their last nine games and seven straight away from home. Houston is just 5-22 on the road this season, second-worst in the NBA to Detroit’s four road wins.

Rockets center Alperen Sengun continues to thrive since returning from a one-game absence Feb. 10. In five games, he is averaging 18.6 points, 8.2 rebounds and four assists, and he is shooting 51.6 percent from the floor.

Sengun is also drawing more double teams and learning how to adjust to the extra attention.

“Be patient and understand that you’re going to draw that crowd and bait it,” Houston coach Ime Udoka said of Sengun. “Bait them to get some open looks.”

The Rockets are hoping to get answers soon on the status of second-year forward Tari Eason, who hasn’t played since Jan. 1 with a leg injury.

“We should know shortly,” Udoka said. “The conversation with him is really, ‘Be patient, look at the big picture. You’re young in your career, and we’re not going to do anything to jeopardize you going forward.'”