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
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Jan 30, 2015, 12:49 PM EST
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Sliding into your DMs like…
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Kings center waits five years, burns Clay Travis for tweet
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Vaughn’s firing seems imminent
Jan 30, 2015, 10:13 AM EST
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Jan 30, 2015, 9:34 AM EST
Did anyone think he would get injured and say, “nah, I don’t want to fight through this” and walk away?
Jan 30, 2015, 8:58 AM EST
The Bulls have a great passing front line.
Jan 30, 2015, 8:37 AM EST
Already facing scrutiny, Vaughn oversaw 15-point loss to Bucks last night
Jan 30, 2015, 3:22 AM EST
The bad Bulls showed up in Los Angeles on Thursday.
Jan 30, 2015, 2:48 AM EST
“I really appreciate him coming, I didn’t expect it at all.” —Pau Gasol
Jan 30, 2015, 12:22 AM EST
He’s warming up for All-Star weekend.
Jan 29, 2015, 11:30 PM EST
It didn’t look good.
Jan 29, 2015, 10:45 PM EST
Management is displeased with their underperformance.
Jan 29, 2015, 10:02 PM EST
“Don’t it always seem to go that you don’t know what you’ve got ‘til it’s gone.”
Jan 29, 2015, 9:30 PM EST
The new rule is an attempt to curtail Jay Z-style figurehead owners.
Jan 29, 2015, 8:09 PM EST
He will get a second opinion.
Jan 29, 2015, 8:00 PM EST
Damian Lillard, Kyle Korver, DeMarcus Cousins and more.
Jan 29, 2015, 7:27 PM EST
DeMarcus Cousins and Damian Lillard were left off in the West.
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