Ladies and gentlemen, boys and girls, the NBA Playoffs are back with the Oklahoma City Thunder (47-35) facing off against the Houston Rockets (55-27) in the first round of the Western Conference Playoffs on Sunday, April 16 at 9:00 PM EST. After going 1-3 against the Rockets during the regular season and facing a dynamic Houston offense led by MVP-candidate James Harden, the Thunder are underdogs in the series with Houston being the favorite.
The biggest match up is between former Oklahoma City Thunder teammates James Harden and Russell Westbrook. Both have had stellar offensive seasons with Harden averaging 29.1 points, 11.2 assists, and 8.1 rebounds and has been the key factor as the lead contributor on offense for the Rockets this season. While Westbrook has had an alright season as well by just averaging a triple-double with 31.6 points, 10.4 assists, and 10.7 rebounds. Both players have been huge for their teams this season and NBA fans should expect high scoring affairs in a series that should go to six or seven games.
On the defensive side of the ball Rockets guard Patrick Beverly will be assigned the task of guarding Russell Westbrook. Instead of trying to stop him, Beverly will try his best to contain Westbrook and continue to get under his skin; as the two have a history with each other. For Oklahoma City on defense, Thunder head coach Billy Donovan will more than likely put Andre Roberson on Rockets star guard James Harden with the hope of trying his best to contain him. The defense will more than likely fall to the wayside between two teams that were explosive on offense during the regular season.
As mentioned before the Oklahoma City Thunder are the underdogs in this series with Houston after going 1-3 against the Rockets this season. But Russell Westbrook alone will be an X-Factor for the Thunder and will drag this team as far as he can this postseason and will more than likely be pivotal in the Thunder extending the series to six or seven games. Another key factor will be how the Thunder defense contains James Harden. Harden has a knack for drawing fouls and getting to the free throw line so as long as Oklahoma City plays solid defense without fouling the team can prevent Harden from hurting them even more.
Out of all the first round Western Conference matchups the series between the Oklahoma City Thunder and Houston Rockets carries the most intrigue. They have two MVP candidates battling with James Harden and Russell Westbrook who were once former teammates. Both Harden and Westbrook would love to advance to the second round and eventually to the Western Conference Finals to face off against former teammate and current Golden State Warrior Kevin Durant as well. This will be an exciting series between two squads that will help shape the race for the Western Conference title.
Projected Starting Lineups
- PG: James Harden
- SG: Patrick Beverley
- SF: Trevor Ariza
- PF: Ryan Anderson
- C: Clint Capela
- Injuries: Sam Dekker (Hand, Day-to-Day)
Oklahoma City Thunder
- PG: Russell Westbrook
- SG: Victor Oladipo
- SF: Andre Roberson
- PF: Taj Gibson
- C: Steven Adams
- Injuries: Doug McDermott (Knee, Day-to-Day)