The playoffs are finally here. If you watched the Oklahoma City Thunder a lot this year, you could tell they just couldn’t wait for the playoffs to start and the games to start meaning a lot more.
The Thunder had one of the best seasons in NBA history in a lot of respects. They won 60 games and their winning margin was among one of the best ever. All of this despite trading James Harden to the Houston Rockets right before the start of the regular season.
Who are the Thunder seeing in the first round? The Beard and the Houston Rockets of course.
The Thunder took the season series vs. Houston 2-1. Two of the games were very memorable.
The Thunder first saw Harden return to Chesapeake Energy Arena on Nov. 28. The welcome was not friendly. The Thunder dominated from the tip and won 120-98. Harden went 3-for-16 from the field and had his shot blocked seven times.
OKC made easy work of the Rockets the next time they played on Dec. 29 in Houston beating them 124-94. Harden didn’t struggle as much this time but the Thunder were still way too much for the Rockets to handle.
The final meeting of the season came on Feb. 20 in Houston and Harden would have the best game of his career. He scored a career-high 46 points on 14-of-19 shooting from the field, 7-of-8 shooting from three and 11-for-12 from the line. He led the Rockets back from behind in the fourth and made every big shot down the stretch.
The big question is: which Harden will we see in this series? Probably closer to the first time he visited OKC.
The Thunder are going to be up for this series as much as anything. They aren’t going to allow Harden to come back to OKC and put on a show.
Between Thabo Sefolosha, Russell Westbrook and Kevin Durant the Thunder should have no problem containing Harden, who averaged 25.9 points, 5.8 assists and 4.9 rebounds per game this season.
The Rockets had a great season winning 45 games. They end up as the eight-seed but were very close to being the sixth. They are a better than average eight-seed that has the worst possible matchup in the first round.
Houston won games because they got up and down the court more than their opponent. They found out how to get a lot of open threes and they made a good deal of them. Defensively, they were one of the weaker teams in the league.
In the playoffs, the game will slow down and Houston’s advantage in transition that they enjoyed in the regular season will disappear. Even if some of these games are played at a high pace, the Thunder are more than happy to do so.
Durant averaged 26.3 points, 7.0 rebounds and 5.7 assists per game vs. the Rockets in the regular season. Westbrook averaged 23.3 points, 8.3 assists and 7.7 rebounds per game. Serge Ibaka averaged 16.0 points, 8.7 rebounds and 4.0 blocks per game.
The Thunder stars will get theirs in this series. Houston isn’t slowing anyone down. When that’s the case, the Thunder don’t lose.
The best case scenario for the Rockets is Harden going off in a game or two. If he doesn’t, the Rockets might not win a game.
Game 1 will tip tonight at 8:30 CST and air nationally on ESPN.