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Rockets-Thunder Isn’t Just About MVP Shootout

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Updated: .April 16, 2017

By Charles Jay

When it comes to matchups, you probably couldn’t do much better than the one they are going to have between the #3 and #6 seeds in the Western Conference, as the Houston Rockets and Oklahoma City Thunder square off in their best-of-seven series. For one thing, it matches up the two guys about whom there is all kind of argument regarding the MVP award. Is it going to be Russell Westbrook, who set a league record for the most triple-doubles, or James Harden, who took the reins of Mike D’Antoni’s wide-open offense and wound up leading the league in assists?

The action will get underway at 9 PM ET at the Toyota Center in Houston, and America’s Bookie customers will have the opportunity to place wagers even after the game has started, as they access two different “Live Betting” options in their sportsbook interface.

D’Antoni is going to get a lot of support for coach of the year, and for good reason. Last season Houston got into the playoffs as the eighth and final seed in the West, but this year they have hung onto the third spot, with a 55-27 record. And they did it by operating a swift pace and shooting triples. The Rockets set NBA records for most three-point attempts, and their objective is to come down the floor before the defense has chance to set up and taken open shot. The point guard is critical in this kind of setup, and that’s why Harden has a strong case for Most Valuable Player, as he basically added the role of “playmaker” to that of scoring leader. There are plenty of people for him to dish off to; Ryan Anderson and Trevor Ariza are forwards who can get up and down the court fast, and there is some explosiveness off the bench with Eric Gordon and Lou Williams, both of whom could make a case to be the sixth man of the year. Center Clint Capela can usually beat his pivot counterpart down the floor. He was in the top five in the NBA in Offensive Rating. Houston takes 46% of its shots from beyond the three-point line, which is amazing.

Westbrook also as the dual role of scorer-point guard, and he had to pick up a lot of the slack after Kevin Durant left as a free agent for Golden State. OKC also traded Serge Ibaka during the off-season, so they basically broke up the team that had been a playoff contender. But with his 42 triple-doubles, which ecipsed the record set by Oscar Robertson in the 1961-62 season, Westbrook willed his team to a 47-35 mark. We don’t want to imply that there was no support for him, but Westbrook was the leader in Usage Percentage by a nice margin.

In the NBA playoff odds posted on this game, Houston is laying points:

Houston Rockets -7
Oklahoma City Thunder +7

Over 227.5 points -110
Under 227.5 points -110

One thing Oklahoma City has to guard against is putting themselves in a position where they try to trade three-pointers. While it is true that Westbrook shot from long-range better this season that he had at any other time in his career, the Thunder still only made 32.7% as a team. It is quite possible that Westbrook and Victor Oladipo, his backcourt mate, are the most athletic guard combo in the league. And OKC management was wise to go out and acquire Doug McDermott from Chicago to provide some potent three-point weaponry.

But if Oklahoma City’s going to win this series, they’ll have to do it with defense and rebounding. Andre Roberson will have the luxury of being able to concentrate on stopping James Harden, and indeed he did a great job of it in the four meetings this season, holding him to just 10-33 from the field when he was guarding him directly. What has to happen is that his teammates must do a better job on the perimeter, because the Rockets were 57% from three-point territory in the two games these teams played at the Toyota Center.

As far as rebounding is concerned, this is an advantage Oklahoma City really has to press. They are best in the NBA in offensive rebounding percentage, and third in defensive rebounding percentage. So part of their game plan has to be to maximize second-shot opportunities and prevent the same on the part of Houston. D’Antoni would love to get more offensive rebounds out of his team, but generally his lineup, and the style of play, don’t necessarily lend itself to that. Let’s not forget something here – even though the Thunder lost Durrant, a former MVP, they are still the team that has more valuable playoff experience between these two. No doubt you recall that they beat San Antonio, then were one victory away from eliminating the Warriors, who had won 73 games in the regular season. And that wasn’t just a one or two-man show. In the Charles Jay/America’s Bookie Challenge for Sunday, we are taking the points with the Thunder in Game 1, looking for a possible upset, which would definitely change the character of this series.

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