With the NBA season coming to a close, the table is set for the Oklahoma City Thunder to play the Houston Rockets in the first round of the playoffs. This should excite any basketball fan, as the seven-game series will feature this season’s two best players going head-to-head in Russell Westbrook and James Harden.
Both Westbrook and Harden have been the talk of the league all season, both making their cases for why they should be the MVP. And it’s still up for grabs among MVP voters as to who should get it. Harden has reinvented himself at the point guard position and Westbrook has had one of, if not the best statistical season of all time, averaging a triple double with three games left to play.
It’s a shame MVP voting can’t happen after this series, because it will hopefully make the case clear. Two men who carry their teams are going head-to-head at the same position in a league where exciting first round matchups can be hard to come by.
The Rockets are known for getting out in transition with a fast-paced style and there is no better player in the NBA to counteract that than Russell Westbrook. Westbrook is seemingly tireless and can grab a rebound and head the other way in a flash.
The Rockets won three out of the teams’ four matchups in the regular season and the Thunder will be coming in as the 6-seed to the Rockets’ 3-seed. James Harden has become one of the league’s elite passers after being moved to point guard from shooting guard this season by Rockets head coach Mike D’Antoni. The Rockets trail only the Golden State Warriors and the San Antonio Spurs in wins this season, with 53. The Rockets have also averaged 117.1 PPG at home and 113.4 PPG on the road.
After a recent loss to the Phoenix Suns, Russell Westbrook was accused by the media of going for assists to pad his triple-double rather than trying to score to help the team win. Westbrook responded by saying, “If I wanted to get 10 assists, I can get 10 assists.” Those are the words of a man with a lot of confidence heading into the postseason – a scary sound for the Rockets.
The series could likely turn into a shootout, with the Rockets letting Westbrook do what he does to an extent and then trying to outscore the Thunder on the other end.
While both teams have their stars at the point guard position, the series will ultimately be decided by the players around them. Look for the Rockets’ perimeter shooting and Thunder’s size down low to be the teams’ respective advantages. If the Rockets can make shots, they will be tough to beat, but the Thunder have the size to dominate them in the paint.
These two teams going head-to-head could turn out to be one of the best series of the 2017 postseason. Two of the league’s best players, both without a championship, fighting to get to the second round has the makings for must-see television.