Oklahoma City Thunder: Will the real James Harden please stand up?

Thunder defense will dictate which Harden shows up during first-round series.
by Darnell Mayberry Published: April 18, 2013
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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.”


by Darnell Mayberry
OKC Thunder Senior Reporter
Darnell Mayberry grew up in Langston, Okla. and is now in his third stint in the Sooner state. After a year and a half at Bishop McGuinness High, he finished his prep years in Falls Church, Va., before graduating from Norfolk State University in...
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