While there is no definite beef between the two teams, there are some compelling storylines that make it a series worth watching. First, the relationship of former teammates James Harden and Chris Paul resulted in the trade that sent Paul to the Thunder prior to the season. This will be exciting to watch — two former teammates battling in the playoffs is always a fun idea. With Paul exploiting techniques and weaknesses and Harden focused solely on scoring, it will be interesting to see how the two will play against each other.
Moreover, Harden’s roots in Oklahoma City (on the 2012 NBA Finals team) will be something to watch as he plays his former team. Be that, it’s a shame that Russell Westbrook’s storyline is immersed in uncertainty; he will be sidelined for at least the first two games of this particular series due to a strained quadriceps muscle. Nevertheless, outside the hype, drama, and the storylines, the Rockets are poised to beat the Thunder and here’s why.
The Houston Rockets have made the playoffs consistently over the past few years. Moreover, they were always deemed as the biggest threat to displace the dynasty of the Golden State Warriors in the Western Conference. While they don’t have the exact same personnel from all the deep postseason runs over the years, they still have the key pieces intact.
This gives the Rockets a clear advantage over OKC in the playoffs as the latter team was literally rebuilt this season alone. Despite all the success that Paul has brought to OKC with a lot of young and promising talent in the roster, this ultimately might end up as a trial phase for the up-and-coming players to get some experience in the postseason.
The Rockets already know what to do from the get-go, but OKC will have to figure out how to play in a completely new atmosphere. OKC will have its time to shine in the future, but that time is not yet here. Give the team a few more years.
2. Small ball will work
The Rockets are admirable for taking risks. The organization isn’t afraid to stay away from the norm and to experiment with the hopes of producing great results. This season, they went all in on small ball and it has actually worked to some extent.
What stands out in these matchups is that what the Rockets lack in height, they make up for in increased effort on the defensive end. In addition, the potent offense is capable of crushing any team on a nightly basis.
With all that being said, there’s no reason that this won’t work against OKC this time around. The high-risk, high-reward setup has been working in favor of the Rockets and that success is likely to continue in this match-up.
3. James Harden
They say that superstars are what define a playoff series. After all, it’s the superstars who will their team to victory as they are etched into history with historic performances only witnessed in the playoffs. As James Harden has been carrying the Rockets into deep playoff runs over the years, why can’t he continue to do so this time around?
Say what you want about his defensive effort, but one can’t deny that he is more than capable of dropping 40 points on every single night if he needed to. Harden is an extraordinary talent that can carry the Rockets night in and night out.
Given that he went toe-to-toe with the likes of Curry and Durant’s Warriors, it would be a stretch to say that he can’t handle CP3 and the youngsters. In addition, contrary to popular belief, Harden is also a decent defender. Outside of the memes and videos of evidence showing his laziness, he is capable of defending anyone when he chooses to do so. The latest proof of this is the recent game between the Rockets and Bucks when Harden guarded Giannis Antetokounmpo and forced him to get out of rhythm.
Look to Harden to not only tear it up on offense, but to also put in the work on the defensive end for the Rockets. Overall, that alone is enough to derail the playoff hopes of the young OKC squad. Try again next year.