The Oklahoma City Thunder and Houston Rockets is a dream playoff matchup in terms of TV ratings. And the frequently discussed reason why is the duel between MVP candidates Russell Westbrook and James Harden.
Under new coach Mike D’Antoni, Harden shifted from shooting guard to playing point, and the results have been phenomenal for both he and the team. The Beard was second in the league in scoring (29.1 PPG), first in assists (11.2), and he led the team in rebounds (8.2). In any normal year, people wouldn’t be able to stop talking about Harden’s near-triple-double average.
But this isn’t a normal year because Westbrook did one better by becoming the first player in 55 years to average a triple-double. He finishes the regular season averaging 31.7 PPG (first), 10.7 rebounds (tenth), and 10.4 assists (third). Westbrook also set the all-time record for triple-doubles in a season with 42.
With the outstanding years had by both of these players, it’s no wonder why the series is being billed as a duel for MVP. Of course, there’s more to the series than just this, which we’ll discuss below along with betting odds.
Western Conference First Round Playoffs Series:
No. 6 Thunder (47-35) vs. No. 3 Rockets (55-27)
Game 1 Betting Line: OKC +7, Houston -7
Other Betting Lines: Check GTBets.eu
Game 1 @HOU: 9 pm EST, Sunday, April 16 (TNT)
Game 2 @HOU: 8 pm EST, Wednesday, April 19 (TNT)
Game 3 @OKC: 9:30 pm EST, Friday, April 21 (ESPN)
Game 4 @OKC: 3:30 pm EST, Sunday, April 23 (ABC)
Game 5 @HOU: TBD, Tuesday, April 25 (TBD)
Game 6 @OKC: TBD, Thursday, April 27 (TBD)
Game 7 @HOU: TBD, Saturday, April 29 (TBD)
Houston Rockets First Round Preview
The 2015-16 campaign was a turbulent one for Houston since they had two coaches (Kevin McHale & J.B. Bickerstaff) and struggled to a 41-41 record. There were reports all season that Harden and Dwight Howard’s games weren’t meshing, so it’s little surprise that the latter wasn’t re-signed in the offseason. It’s also no surprise that this team was thoroughly handled in the first round of the playoffs by the Golden State Warriors.
But Houston has rebounded under D’Antoni’s new system while establishing a three-point-heavy style the league has ever seen. The Rockets smashed the NBA’s record for average three-point attempts with 40 per game. In D’Antoni’s eyes, any open shot is a good one, no matter how far out it comes.
The roster has embraced this style, given that all the rotational players except center Clint Capella are willing to jack up three’s. This team can run with anybody, and their spread pick-and-roll offense is pretty devastating in the half court.
Houston really went full-throttle from Dec. 1 to Jan. 10, going 20-2 during this stretch and firmly entrenching themselves in the conference’s No. 3 spot. They held this position and now sit as dark-horse contenders for the West, behind No. 1 Golden State and No. 2 San Antonio.
What makes this team so dangerous is the barrage of three-pointers that they can drop at any point in the game. Harden averages 3.2 made three’s per game, Eric Gordon averages 3.3, Ryan Anderson hits 2.8, Trevor Ariza makes 2.4, and Lou Williams connects on 1.8 three’s per game.
This team is also versatile, though, and can go big with Capella and Nene Hilario. This isn’t quite like the Spurs putting Pau Gasol and LaMarcus Aldridge on the floor, but it’s enough size to show opponents a different look from the bomb squad they normally employ.
Again, this series will continue to be billed as a matchup between Westbrook and Harden. But the Rockets’ depth and versatility will play a huge role in their efforts to win.
Houston ATS Record: The Rockets closed out the regular season going 6-5 against the spread. But the key number here is that they were 6-2 as favorites. Given that they’ll be favored throughout much of the series, the trend says bet Rockets.
Oklahoma City Thunder First Round Preview
Earlier we covered the turnaround that Houston made from the 2015-16 campaign. And it’s worth nothing that they also suffered a big loss over the summer when long-time franchise star Kevin Durant signed with Golden State. This was especially devastating when considering that OKC took Golden State to 7 games in the conference finals.
Of course, it’s been easier to cover for this loss when considering Westbrook’s production. We discussed the triple-double average earlier, which is all the more impressive when considering that Westbrook also led the league in scoring for the second time in three years.
He’s truly been a do-it-all player for this team and has willed them into the playoffs for the seventh time in eight seasons. And given that Westbrook has less of a supporting cast to work with than Harden, he’ll likely put up bigger numbers.
Of course, this isn’t to say that that rest of the team is totally barren. Victor Oladipo has been a solid player for this team offensively (15.9 PPG) and defensively (1.16 SPG) in his first season with the Thunder.
Sixth man Enes Kanter has once again played solid off the bench, scoring 14.3 PPG while shooting 54.5% from the field. Fellow center Steven Adams (11.3 PPG, 7.7 RPG) has reprised his role as the team’s interior enforcer. Power forward Taj Gibson (9.0 PPG, 4.5 RPG) has also played well for this team inside since coming over from the Bulls midseason.
Small forward Andre Roberson may not be much of a scorer (6.6 PPG). But he’s a strong defender (1.19 SPG, 1.0 BPG) who’ll be tasked with guarding Harden and Gordon at various times. Then there’s backup small forward Doug McDermott, who, after also coming over from the Bulls, has improved the team’s shooting (36.2% from three-point).
Oklahoma City ATS Record: The Thunder are 6-5 against the spread in their last 10 games. They’re 2-2 ATS when playing as the underdog. Given that they’ll be the underdog throughout much of this series, OKC is a middling bet right now.
Final Thoughts on Thunder vs Rockets Playoffs Betting
Russell Westbrook has had a season for the ages, putting up amazing numbers and carrying his team into the playoffs. The result is a 47-35 record, which is good enough to play Houston in the first round. And most will agree is a softer matchup than Golden State or San Antonio.
Still, playing Houston will be no cakewalk since the latter features Harden and a cast of players who can hit three’s from anywhere inside half court. And as covered before, they also have the ability to go big when needed.
We expect a spirited performance from Westbrook on the heels of his historic triple-double season. But the Rockets just have too much depth and firepower to overcome in this first round.
Series Prediction: Houston wins series 4-1