Apr 19, 2013, 5:01 PM EDT
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
Jul 29, 2015, 7:47 PM EDT
Manu Ginobili is a stud.
Jul 29, 2015, 6:55 PM EDT
Kerr says Luke Walton is a future head coach in the NBA.
Jul 29, 2015, 6:31 PM EDT
Toronto has shifted the roster to be more defensive, and be able to go smaller.
Jul 29, 2015, 5:21 PM EDT
Jimmy Kimmell is the best part.
Jul 29, 2015, 4:22 PM EDT
Rex Kalamian and Andy Greer also join Dwane Casey’s staff
Jul 29, 2015, 3:35 PM EDT
Enter Andrei Kirilenko to save the day?
Jul 29, 2015, 2:48 PM EDT
Will anyone claim him?
Jul 29, 2015, 2:03 PM EDT
Cavaliers star has avoided making a public decision
Jul 29, 2015, 1:04 PM EDT
If Brazil qualifies through FIBA Americas Championship, that could close door for another North/South American team from qualifying
Jul 29, 2015, 12:00 PM EDT
Lakers were in a bad place when Jackson first stepped away
Jul 29, 2015, 11:11 AM EDT
Brooklyn owner praises Adam Silver for filling in
Jul 29, 2015, 10:13 AM EDT
Cavaliers star also addresses his favorites – including place to play, rapper, and teammates
Jul 29, 2015, 9:26 AM EDT
He’ll likely compete with Aaron Harrison to make regular-season roster
Jul 29, 2015, 8:31 AM EDT
Cleveland’s Tristan Thompson and J.R. Smith head the list.
Jul 29, 2015, 8:00 AM EDT
Bounce passes are less effective in baseball.
Jul 29, 2015, 12:05 AM EDT
Cuban said presidential candidate is ‘probably the best thing to happen to politics in a long, long time’
Jul 28, 2015, 11:09 PM EDT
Could former summer-league standout fill Golden State’s need for an off-the-bench shooter?
Jul 28, 2015, 10:11 PM EDT
Hint, hint, hint
Jul 28, 2015, 9:16 PM EDT
Dallas also reportedly talking to Salah Mejri
Jul 28, 2015, 8:19 PM EDT
Thunder power forward was scheduled to play in African exhibition game
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