By Anthony Slater – Aslater@opubco.com - @anthonyVslater
Here’s a quick capsule for the Thunder-Rockets first round series
Full schedule (CST)
Game 1 — Sun., April 21, Houston at Oklahoma City, 8:30 p.m., TNT
Game 2 — Wed, April 24, Houston at Oklahoma City, 6 p.m., TNT
Game 3 — Sat., April 27, Oklahoma City at Houston, 8:30 p.m., ESPN
Game 4 — Mon., April 29, Oklahoma City at Houston, TBD
Game 5* — Wed. May 1, Houston at Oklahoma City, TBD
Game 6* — Fri., May 3, Oklahoma City at Houston, TBD
Game 7* — Sun., May 5, Houston at Oklahoma City, TBD
Season series – Thunder 2-1
-November 28th: Thunder 120, Rockets 98 – Kevin Durant drops an easy 37 and James Harden struggles (3-of-16 shooting) in his return to OKC
-December 29th: Thunder 124, Rockets 94 – OKC hit 13 threes and had five players in double-figures in this 30-point blowout
-February 20th: Rockets 122, Thunder 119 – Harden’s revenge came in the form of 46 cold-blooded points, sparking a wild second-half comeback to upset OKC in a shootout.
Series storyline – All Beard, all the time
Life (in the playoffs) without James Harden begins with a series against James Harden. It’ll capture all the initial headlines heading into Game 1 (as it should), but will only continue if the Rockets can somehow make it a series.
Player to watch – Russell Westbrook
Already a bad defensive team, the Rockets should take the Doc Rivers approach to stopping Westbrook: Pray. Jeremy Lin will likely start on him, Harden may get a crack and Patrick Beverly will get a brief chance off the bench. But in reality, Westbrook (and his improving but occasionally questionable maturity) is the only one capable of slowing this highly explosive star. If he plays well (like he has all year), OKC should roll.
Key Matchup - Chandler Parsons v Kevin Durant
Parsons, who averages a surprising 15.5 points per game, is actually one of the more underrated players in the league. He’s had some huge games and hot stretches throughout this breakout season. But too bad for him, this playoff stage (which can often be used as a showcase for undervalued guys like him), instead looks like a nightmare waiting to happen, with Parsons squaring up against perennial All-Star Kevin Durant. Best-case scenario: Parsons holds his own, gets hot from the perimeter, nearly levels the matchup and gives Houston a shot at an upset. Worst-case scenarios: Durant torches him for four straight, sending him packing from the playoffs with his tail between his legs.
Why the Thunder will win…
They are the far superior team, featuring three of the best four players in this series and advantages at nearly every position. To OKC, this is step one in what they hope is a long postseason journey. To the Rockets, it’s just an added bonus at the end of a bounceback season, likely used more for needed experience down the road, once they build a legit contender around Harden.
How the Rockets can pull the upset…
James Harden better get hot — and I mean scorching hot — for the Rockets to produce a legitimate threat. In their lone win against OKC in the regular season, he went for 46 on 14/19 shooting and 7/8 from three, barely nipping the Thunder by three. You may be able to count the amount of Rocket wins in this series by the number of times he goes for 40+.
Thunder in 5. Harden will the Rockets a game, KD and Westbrook will get the Thunder four of them.