Oklahoma City at Houston
Time: 8 PM CT (TNT)
Game 1 Spread: HOU -7
Game 1 Total: 227.5
Betting odds c/o 5dimes
The Western Conference NBA playoffs feature perhaps one of the most compelling first round matchups in recent playoff history. The No. 3 seeded Houston Rockets will host the No. 6 seeded Oklahoma City Thunder in a showdown between the league’s two leading MVP candidates, James Harden of the Rockets and Russell Westbrook of the Thunder.
Though the MVP votes have already been sent in (on April 14th), this series could provide the definitive statement in the battle between these stars, each of whom have compiled two of the most statistically dominant seasons in NBA history.
The discussion, of course, begins with Russell Westbrook and his triple-double average. Westbrook became the first player since Oscar Robertson to average a triple double, a feat that few figured would be repeated since the last time it was requires going back 50 years of NBA history.
For all the talk of his detractors and his “stat padding,” there is no denying the dominance of a league leading scorer averaging 10-plus assists and 10-plus rebounds (from the 1-spot no less!). But somewhat lost in this is the fact that James Harden led the league in assists and carried the Rockets to a No. 3 seed, perhaps a little higher than most expected first year coach Mike D’Antoni would be able to guide the team to.
But does the show stop here for Houston? D’Antoni’s teams in the past had trouble in the postseason, and he has indeed never guided any of his offensively dominant teams to the NBA Finals. While asking that of Harden and company is a tough billing, the Rockets must remain something of a dark horse in the Western Conference, simply because the team can flat out score.
Houston possessed the league’s No. 2 most-potent offense, trailing only the star-studded Golden State Warriors. The Rockets averaged 115.3 points per game and a 5.8 point differential, while having posted a 30-11 mark at home where it will begin this series with the coveted home court advantage. Might that home court advantage play a very decisive role? It is possible. This series has the makings of a seven-game marathon, even if the Rockets did best the Thunder by eight wins in the regular season.
Westbrook, for as good as he is, has been said to have a weak supporting cast. The thing is, it really is not that true. Steven Adams, Enes Kanter, Victor Oladipo and Andre Roberson help form an effective cast of role players. Adams is a top-notch defensive presence, whose numbers undoubtedly would be slightly more impressive, if he played for statistics at all. Kanter is a dynamite scorer off the bench and could someday be Sixth Man of the Year material.
Oladipo, a former No. 2 overall pick of the Orlando Magic, has failed to break out in a meaningful way in OKC, but is still one of the league’s better mid-ranger scorers and an excellent defender who will likely draw some of the defensive responsibilities on Harden. Roberson, meanwhile, is OKC’s best defender and will be the main one to cover Harden in this series.
How well Roberson can mitigate Harden’s prolific offensive attack and creation is what will play the determining role in this series, and the same could really be said of Houston and defensive pest Patrick Beverley, who will be the primary defender on Westbrook, most likely.
For all the offensive fireworks of this series, it could come down to the roles of Roberson and Beverley in determining who wins this. Casual fans will not notice that, but bettors are more than causal fans. Who’s your play here: Roberson or Beverley?
Do not be misled that it is a Harden versus Westbrook series: the superstars will seldom matchup against one another, and it will be the defensive roles of the supporting players that goes so far in determining this series.
For all the hype and hoopla of the MVP award, the sub-story will be the games of Roberson and Beverley, who each have their cases to make All-NBA defensive teams.