Bing predicts who will come out on top in 2017 NBA Playoffs
So what kind of schemes and ploys can D'Antoni throw the Thunder's way with a fairly thin frontline and suspect defensive two-guards?
"I don't really care about the (MVP) talks, I just want to win", he said.
The series appeals as one of the sexiest of the first-round matchups around the league purely on the basis of its superstar matchup. After becoming the point guard of the Houston Rockets, Harden lead the entire National Basketball Association in assists per game.
It's the reason that the Spurs lost their first two games against Memphis this season, needed to play nearly ideal basketball to beat them the firsttime, and then finally won a good game against them in overtime in their final matchup. And I think, as people think about it a little bit, they are going to think much more than they do right now. If you're looking for a First Round series to follow, Bing predicts seed #5 Atlanta to upset #4 Washington and win 4-2; Atlanta will not carry the momentum to the Eastern Semifinals though, and lose to Boston in 7 games.
Usually, I would cite the player who means most to their specific team, but this year I have to believe that the NBA's award victor should be Westbrook.
Perhaps nobody will have as much pressure on them than Andre Roberson, who will have to bump up his scoring from his average of 6.6 per game while also using his length defensively to slow down James Harden when he's picking and popping.
Oklahoma City Thunder centre Steven Adams needs to recapture his playoff spark of a year ago. More teams are putting the ball in the hands of their best player more often, letting them control the game. But Westbrook and the Thunder were unable to exact revenge in the four games between these two teams during the regular season.
That said, the Rockets will have the utmost confidence that feisty lockdown defender Patrick Beverley will be able to limit the Westbrook damage, and may even find a way to get under his skin as has become his trademark. You have to go out there with a goal and know what you're trying to execute, whether it's defensively or offensively, your schemes, know your personnel, knowing your plays in a nutshell. If the three's are falling only one or two teams in the entire league are even capable of hanging with James Harden and company on the floor.
The Thunder, meanwhile, scores 107.9 points per 100 possessions with Westbrook on the court, but muster a mere 97.4 offensive rating with Westbrook on the bench - on par with the 10-win Philadelphia 76ers from 2015-16 (96.6 offensive rating).
It's pretty much ideal that James Harden and Russell Westbrook are facing off in the first round, isn't it? With the aforementioned Anderson finally back in the swing of things after missing six games toward the end of the regular season, the Rockets' second-highest paid player could be a difference maker in Game 1. "You have to go out there and do all those things and still play hard". They do have a big advantage down low and when it comes to rebounding the basketball and any hope of an upset could hinge on those two factors alone.
Both teams like to run and gun as Houston ranks #3 in pace, while the Thunder rank #9. How do you, personally, define the phrase "most valuable player" in a sports context?
Foul trouble will dictate a lot in this series, just like it does in every series. It will be tough for OKC's bigs to defend a sharpshooting Houston lineup while the Rockets have no answer for the Thunder's bruisers in the paint.
- Written by Bryan Fischer, an award-winning college football columnist and member of the Athlon Contributor Network.
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