Thunder's Westbrook focused on playoffs, not historic season

If the Rockets shooting from beyond the arc goes cold or if the Thunder can defend the three-point line effectively, then Oklahoma City can beat them and move on to the second round. But it's hard to objectively look at this Spurs team and say that it's demonstrably better than the rosters Harden and Westbrook have around them.

Jumpstarted by the trade deadline acquisitions of Taj Gibson and Doug McDermott from the Chicago Bulls, the Thunder finished the season 14-10 and should feel confident heading into the playoffs for the seventh time in eight years. Westbrook is the be-all, end-all for the Thunder.

"LaMarcus Aldridge, who was supposed to be the team's second all-star behind Leonard, has taken a step backward". That leaves the ball handler with a wide open three.

While Mike D'Antonio has put forth some of the best offenses in National Basketball Association history, his regular season success hasn't translated to the playoffs. Obviously, communication is going to be key.

Of course it's Houston Rockets vs. Many fans expected the Thunder to completely miss the playoffs after Kevin Durant chose to sign with Golden State over Oklahoma City.

The Rockets are going to have to be seriously concerned about transition defense. A lot of those points came off of offensive rebounds and ensuing baskets or fouls. I have been rifling through NBA record books, and it looks like, since the implementation of the 82-game regular season, no one on a team with as few wins as the 2016-2017 Oklahoma City Thunder has ever won the NBA MVP. It's just his bread and butter. Some people want to award the player who had the single best regular season. They have shown that they can - they have a team that can adjust to play against nearly anybody.

But with all the help Harden will have (think Trevor Ariza, Patrick Beverley, Ryan Anderson, Clint Capela, Eric Gordon, Lou Williams and Nene), Westbrook needs assistance. My prediction? That goes to James Harden and the Rockets in six games. For both sides, this is going to be an aspect that could ultimately decide the series. Mike D'Antoni was initially thought to be a questionable hire for a franchise that had a number of flaws but has turned out to be just the right man for the job in leading an impressive turnaround. Roberson and Bev are going to be the key figures in that sense, since the National Basketball Association won't be insane enough to force Harden or Westbrook to sit. If we had a rigid definition, there wouldn't be much room for discussion. Harden goes out there playing chess with D'Antoni's guidance. He has the strength to at least be a minor inconvenience and his quick hands could force a few turnovers.

In the other: the bearded Harden, who facilitated a surprising Rockets surge to 55 wins while putting up 29.1 points, 11.2 assists and 8.1 rebounds for Houston. Or, will Harden guard Roberson and Westbrook guard Beverly?

You get the play the tough, best competition.

Harden and Westbrook will likely never be matched up against one another over the next couple of weeks.

But Portland coach Terry Stotts said Friday that his status for the first-round opener in Oakland on Sunday was "undetermined".

We may have to get deep into this series but eventually the focus will fade over the MVP race between Russell Westbrook and James Harden, as the attention will rightfully turn to these two teams and what they're able to do out on the court.

  • Angelo Rivera