James Harden faced his former team three times in the regular season.
The Thunder shut him down in the first two meetings and watched him go off in the final game.
Now, with a best-of-7 opening-round series on deck between the Thunder and Houston Rockets, the question is which version of Harden will we see?
Will it be the ineffective player we witnessed average 21 points on 27 percent shooting in the two thumpings, or the All-Star we saw post a career-high 46 on the Thunder while shooting 73.7 percent?
The answer rests in which version of the Thunder's defense shows up.
“I think what we did early is we were early with our helps,” said Nick Collison. “We got back with a good shell defense behind the ball. And so we were engaged and I think we were more the aggressors defensively. In the game where we struggled, we weren't getting back so if he was able to penetrate by the initial guy our help wasn't in the right place. All those things. We just weren't as sharp.”
Thunder coach Scott Brooks, like Collison, insists that the team has “moved on” from Harden. But the Thunder doesn't have to miss him. OKC only has to stop him.
Harden averaged 27.8 points on 48.3 percent shooting in Houston's 43 wins, while those averages dropped to 23.7 points on 38.6 percent in the Rockets' 35 losses.
“Our guys aren't thinking that we have to stop James, and I'm not working on a game plan only to stop James,” Brooks said. “They are a very good offensive team and we have to stop the Rockets. We're going to have to beat the Rockets. And if James is stopped that's obviously good because we want to take away their strengths and he's a big part of their team. But he's not the only piece of their team. We're focusing on beating them.”
THREE DAYS OF PREPARATION
With a Sunday start to its opening-round series with the Rockets, the Thunder will attempt to use the extra day of preparation wisely.
The team conducted a light developmental day Thursday and held its first team meeting in preparation for the Rockets. That followed heavy film study, which will continue Friday along with court work that will target focal points that are priorities against Houston.
“Practices are usually high intensity but very short,” Collison said. “There are usually a couple of things we'll work on and then we get out of there so we can stay fresh. And obviously hopefully nobody gets hurt. So that's kind of the focus; start with the film and then talk about a game plan and then get on the court and just work on it and then just get ready for the game.”
FLOPPING PENALTIES ANNOUNCED
The NBA on Thursday announced penalties for players who violate the league's anti-flopping rules during the playoffs.
Any player who is determined to have committed a flop will be fined $5,000 for the first violation, $10,000 for the second violation, $15,000 for the third violation and $30,000 for the fourth violation. If a player violates the rule five times or more, he will be subject to discipline that is reasonable under the circumstance, including an increased fine and/or suspension, the league announced.
Under league rules, flopping is defined as any physical act that appears to have been intended to cause the referees to call a foul on another player. The primary factor in determining whether a player committed a flop, the league said, is whether his physical reaction to contact with another player is inconsistent with what would reasonably be expected given the force or direction of the contact.
Thunder guard Kevin Martin and Rockets center Omer Asik were two of the five players who received $5,000 fines for violating the anti-flopping rule twice during the regular season. In its first year, the anti-flopping rule saw 24 violations and 14 players receiving warnings.
Fox Sports Oklahoma will continue to broadcast Thunder games through the first round. … The Thunder will open every home game of the 2013 NBA Playoffs with Thunder Alley, the pregame festival on Reno Ave. Festivities will include a Budweiser Beer Garden, a skills-and-drills station, inflatable games, appearances by Thunder Girls and Thunder Drummers, face painting, a DJ booth and more. “Thunder Live,” the team's pregame show on Fox Sports Oklahoma, also will be broadcast from Thunder Alley. The event will begin three hours before every home game and conclude as the games begin.
Collison on playing Harden — “I think everybody's over it now. He's their best scorer. He's a big part of what they do. He's going to probably play against the Thunder 40 more times in his career so eventually everyone's going to have to get over it.”
By Darnell Mayberry