James Harden returns to Oklahoma City tonight for the first time since being traded to the Houston Rockets.
All eyes will be on Harden and his beard all night as the Rockets will try and act like it’s just another game and upset the Thunder at home.
It’s not just another game and while Harden and Thunder players Russell Westbrook and Kevin Durant try to downplay it, Harden is coming to town with a real chip on his shoulder.
Harden chased the money which led him away from titles in the near future. He has his own team now where he is the man and will want to prove that more than ever going up against the two players who were the two options ahead of him in OKC.
Harden got off to a great start this season and is averaging 25.1 points per game so far this season. He’s taking 7.2 more shots per game than he did a year ago and making just 2.6 more field goals. He is also attempting 9.4 free throws per game this season compared to just 6.0 last year with the Thunder.
Harden is getting more opportunity in Houston but overall he’s not quite the efficient monster he was for the Thunder. That’s because defenses get to solely focus on him now and that’s just what the Thunder will do tonight.
Harden does most of his damage in the pick-and-roll. It’s where 32.8 percent of his offense comes from and he’s 4th in the league scoring 1.09 points per possession (PPP) on those plays. As a team, the Rockets are 2nd in the league scoring 0.97 PPP in the pick-and-roll.
The Thunder have been the best defense in the league this season defending the pick-and-roll allowing just 0.75 PPP so it will be a different animal that greets Houston’s offense tonight.
The Rockets will likely be forced to rely more on isolation plays and spot-up shooting plays where they rank 16th and 20th in the league, respectively.
Meanwhile, stopping the Thunder at the other end is no easy task. OKC is 3rd in the league overall scoring 1.00 PPP this season and they feature two of the toughest covers in the league.
Durant is impossible for just about anyone to match up with although Chandler Parsons did a good job on him a year ago. Jeremy Lin will have a much more difficult time trying to slow down Westbrook.
It’s safe to say however that you can throw the records out for tonight’s game. It will be an emotional game, especially for Harden who is looking to prove himself an equal to his former teammate superstars. They don’t want him to be that, at least not tonight in OKC.
When push comes to shove, you have to go with the hometown Thunder tonight. This isn’t the kind of game where they don’t show up. They will be up for this game as much as any other all year. And when that’s the case, they rarely lose.