NBA Playoffs: Rockets vs Thunder Preview
The 2017 NBA Playoffs kick off this weekend with arguably the most anticipated matchup coming between the Houston Rockets and Oklahoma City Thunder. The Rockets took the regular season series with a record of 3-1 against the Russell Westbrook led Thunder. The Thunder, however, have won the only playoff matchup between the two teams in 2013 with a series win of 4-2. Westbrook and Houston’s James Harden have been the talk of the MVP race and it will be interesting to see how they match up in this first round matchup.
The most obvious matchup to look at heading into this game will be the battle between the two superstars Westbrook and Harden. Westbrook ran away with the most Triple-Double this season with an NBA record of 42, while Harden put up an impressive 21 Triple-Doubles which would have been remarkable in any other NBA season. Since it is likely the two superstars will cancel each other out, we should look at who could be a major factor during this playoff series.
Victor Oladipo of the Thunder will need to be able to outshoot the Rockets’ Ryan Anderson to give Oklahoma City any shot in this series. Both have the ability to knock down shots consistently, but their defense will be what makes a difference in this series. Anderson is great for grabbing rebounds but will need to step up his defensive efforts against a motivated Thunder offense.
The one matchup that may be completely overlooked are the team’s big men. OKC’s Enes Kanter and Steven Adams have developed great chemistry with Russell Westbrook as the season has gone on leaving opponents with very few answers on defense. Houston’s Clint Capela and Nene Hilario have a tall task in front of him that may lead to one of the only mismatches in favor of Oklahoma City.
The most mind-blowing statistic to look out for during this series is the points per game averaged by the Rockets during the regular season. Houston averaged 115.2 PPG which was second in the league only to the Golden State Warriors with 116.0 PPG. The Thunder, on the other hand, finished 11th in PPG with 106.6 during the regular season. If the Thunder hope to have any chance against the Rockets, they need to find scoring from somewhere other than their major contributors.
The one stat they may work in the Thunder’s favor is their ability to rebound the ball. They average 46.6 total rebounds a game while holding their opponents to 40.6 RPG. The Rockets are tied for 9th in the league in total rebounds with 44.3 while allowing 44.0 RPG to their opponents. If the Thunder can keep up their impressive rebounding and not allow Houston second chances on the offensive glass, they may be able to steal a few extra possessions throughout the course of the series.
Who Will Win and Why
My prediction for this series is that the Houston Rockets will beat the Oklahoma City Thunder in six games and put an early end to Russell Westbrook’s historic season. The Rockets have proven to be one of the top teams in the Western Conference throughout the entire season while the Thunder wouldn’t even be in the playoffs without the heroic efforts from Russell Westbrook. The Thunder have relied solely on Westbrook to carry them throughout the season and it will finally catch up to them during this matchup. Westbrook has done his best to distribute the ball to his teammates, but it is easier to plan a defense strategy when the opposing team knows the offense will always run through him. With the likes of guards Patrick Beverly and Lou Williams. able to provide scoring help for James Harden, they will show the Thunder that it takes more than one man to win a playoff series.