After an entertaining regular season, the Thunder will begin postseason play on Sunday night (8 p.m.) when it takes on the Rockets inside the Toyota Center in Houston.
Here are a few things to know about Game 1:
MVP Candidates Will Face Tough Defense
Even though Kevin Durant completely disrupted the balance of the league with his decision to jump on the gravy train in Golden State, both Russell Westbrook and James Harden did their best to make the rest of the NBA worth watching this past season.
Both guys are considered MVP frontrunners, and both guys will have something to prove when their respective teams square off in the first round. But the thing is, it won’t be easy.
Westbrook will be defended by his arch-enemy, Patrick Beverley, while Harden will be matched up against Andre Roberson. Both Beverley and Roberson are considered to be two of the top defenders in all of basketball, and both guys will be looking to showcase their value on a massive stage.
In three games with Beverley as his primary defender, Westbrook averaged 38.3 points per game on 44-percent shooting from the field while Harden averaged 20.5 points on 34-percent shooting in four games when Roberson was his primary defender.
While both teams live or die by the success of their superstars, they are very different in how they operate on a game-to-game basis.
Led by Mike D’Antoni, the Rockets space the floor and shoot a league-high 40.3 3-pointers a game while making 14.4 of those attempts. Houston has the second best offensive rating in the league at 114.7 and are third in assists with 25.2.
The Thunder, on the other hand, shoot only 25.8 3-pointers a game and make only 8.4 of those attempts on a nightly basis. Seeing OKC’s strengths center around its big men, the Thunder lead the league in rebounding with 46.6 rebounds per game with 12.2 on the offensive end.
Therefore, the Rockets will prefer to play with a smaller lineup in the first round while the Thunder would be more comfortable getting the job done with Steven Adams, Enes Kanter and Taj Gibson getting significant playing time. It will be tough for OKC’s bigs to defend a sharpshooting Houston lineup while the Rockets have no answer for the Thunder’s bruisers in the paint.
With two contrasting styles, it will be interesting to see which team is able to operate in its comfort zone more often, and which team will abandon its ways in order to matchup better with its opponent.
Ready in Houston for Game 1 Sunday! pic.twitter.com/I3VOx47b3Q— David Aldridge (@daldridgetnt) April 15, 2017
Flashback To 2013
This will be the second time the Thunder and Rockets will square off in the playoffs, with the first time coming in 2013.
After trading James Harden just seven months before the series started, Harden led the Rockets to the No. 8 seed in the West to face the No. 1 seed Thunder. OKC won the series in six games, but Westbrook went down with a tragic knee injury in Game 2 after a cheap shot from Beverley.
The Thunder went on to lose in five games to the Grizzlies in the second round.