Apr 19, 2013, 5:01 PM EST
Oklahoma City: 60-22, first seed in East
Houston: 45-37, eighth seed in East
The Thunder won 2-1, though that doesn’t truly capture how much they dominated the series. Oklahoma City won by 22 and 30, and Houston won by just three.
OFFENSE/DEFENSE RANKINGS (points per 100 possession)
Oklahoma City: offense 110.2 (2nd best in NBA), defense 99.2 (3rd in NBA)
Houston: offense 106.7 (6th in NBA), defense 103.5 (16th in NBA)
Differential: Thunder +11.0 (1st in NBA), Rockets +3.2 (9th in NBA)
THREE KEYS FOR OKLAHOMA CITY:
Avoid a Russell Westbrook meltdown: Westbrook had the best season of his career, taking a slight lead in the race to be the NBA’s best guard behind Chris Paul. He’s driven on the court by a burning passion, and that’s part of the reason he’s so successful. If he played calmer, he probably wouldn’t have the same impact. But that intensity can get the best of Westbrook at times. As long as he stays close enough to even-keeled, Oklahoma City should be fine. But if he melts down, that crack could give the Rockets an upset opportunity.
Make corner 3s: The Rockets’ perimeter defense is bad, and Kevin Durant and Russell Westbrook should have little trouble penetrating, but Oklahoma City doesn’t necessarily need to rely on that. The Rockets rank 29th in defensive corner 3-point percentage, making Houston the only team in the bottom seven of that category to make the playoffs. As a bonus, the Thunder have two of the league’s best corner 3-point shooters in Thabo Sefolosha and Kevin Martin.
Don’t be afraid to turn the ball over: The Thunder have the NBA’s second-highest turnover percentage, but that’s due in large part to their offensive aggressiveness. They can handle a few more turnovers if it leads to extra high-efficiency scoring opportunities.
THREE KEYS FOR HOUSTON:
Limit Thunder other than Durant and Westbrook: Asking Durant and Westbrook beat you is probably asking to lose, but the Rockets probably aren’t going going to beat the Thunder without catching a major break. Despite outside pressure for Durant to get upset by Westbrook’s high usage, Durant has rejected the suggestion to show dissatisfaction. When the Thunder share the ball, that’s easy to do. But if Westbrook is taking all the shots that don’t go to Durant, maybe, just maybe Durant would see things differently.
Funnel Durant and Westbrook toward Omer Asik: In the spirit of the previous key, Asik is a physical player, and if he can protect the paint, great. If he can wear down Durant and Westbrook, maybe Houston gains an edge.
Don’t be afraid to turn the ball over: The Rockets have the NBA’s second-highest turnover percentage, but that’s due in large part to their offensive aggressiveness. They can handle a few more turnovers if it leads to extra high-efficiency scoring opportunities.
James Harden facing his former team is a fantastic storyline. Unfortunately the one-vs.-franchise matchup doesn’t necessarily make for a fantastic series.
Though the Rockets are extremely strong for a No. 8 seed – those who evaluate their rise from recent seasons only in terms of standings don’t fully appreciate how far this team has come – they’re not much of a match for the Thunder. Oklahoma City is better offensively and defensively, and it’s difficult to find a matchup that will turn this series in favor of the underdog.
Still, the individual storylines are great.
Did the Thunder err by trading James Harden? If they had to trade one, should they have dealt Serge Ibaka instead? Or did they completely miscalculate by keeping Westbrook rather than Harden?
Plenty of players will have something to prove this series.
Thunder in six
Dec 22, 2014, 8:44 PM EST
Beckham previously had dinner with LeBron James
Dec 22, 2014, 7:54 PM EST
Thunder point guard both dismissive and introspective after loss to Pelicans
Dec 22, 2014, 6:59 PM EST
Love will be booed more vehemently on Tuesday than LeBron will on Thursday.
Dec 22, 2014, 6:17 PM EST
Well, it would be better than more Jar Jar Binks.
Nick Young’s plan to ease Kobe’s burden: Give Young the ball because he’s best three point shooter in league
Dec 22, 2014, 5:45 PM EST
Young does not lack for confidence.
Dec 22, 2014, 4:35 PM EST
The Rockets are the frontrunners to land him.
Dec 22, 2014, 3:51 PM EST
Trail Blazers move up to second.
Dec 22, 2014, 3:05 PM EST
Boston might try to re-trade point guard acquired in Rajon Rondo deal
K.J. McDaniels’ mom yells at his teammates for dunking rather than passing, shooting free throws too slowly
Dec 22, 2014, 2:15 PM EST
Ms. McDaniels brings some fun to the 76ers-Magic game
Dec 22, 2014, 1:38 PM EST
Each reported suitor has an in with former Pistons forward
Dec 22, 2014, 1:01 PM EST
Maybe Dalembert wanted to get ejected so he didn’t have to watch any more of the Raptors easy win over the Knicks.
Dec 22, 2014, 12:21 PM EST
Pistons use stretch provision on forward owed more than $35 million
Dec 22, 2014, 11:55 AM EST
Will LeBron receive more cheers or boos?
Dec 22, 2014, 11:22 AM EST
In a Philadelphia win!
Dec 22, 2014, 10:29 AM EST
Magic guard avoiding sophomore slump of other top 2013-14 rookies
Dec 22, 2014, 9:39 AM EST
Philadelphia will waive Turiaf, who’s injured and out for season
Dec 22, 2014, 9:00 AM EST
Byron Scott can tell Kobe to rest, but it will be Kobe’s decision. Kobe has the power in that relationship.
Dec 22, 2014, 8:30 AM EST
Dec 22, 2014, 8:00 AM EST
No deal for Stephenson is happening anytime soon.
Dec 22, 2014, 1:43 AM EST
Quality win for LeBron James and the Cavaliers as well.
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