Clippers (4) vs Jazz (5)

Oh boy, Oklahoma City Thunder vs. Houston Rockets, Westbrook vs. Harden, what happens when the unstoppable force meets the unstoppable force? This is the marquee first round matchup of the playoffs. The storylines heading in couldn’t be better. The two top choices for MVP slugging it out in a best of seven series. We’re all so lucky. So how does this series play out, let’s look at the season series to base our prediction on.

During the regular season Houston took the series 3 games to 1. Oklahoma City took the first game of the season with Houston sweeping the final three games. All the games were high scoring and fast paced contests. However, Oklahoma City’s defense just never seemed to be able to control Houston’s spread out attack. Oklahoma City has not been able to find an answer to Houston’s ability to spread the floor while also having the high pick and roll game of Harden and Capeli. On the other end at times, Westbrook can do what he wants to a mediocre Houston defense, but there’s no one to back up the one man show to help spread the threat of their offense. Which brings me to the x-factors for each team going into the series.

Houston is going to need to keep Patrick Beverly healthy and out of foul trouble. The lone game Oklahoma City won was with Beverly out of the lineup for Houston. We can expect Westbrook to dial it up to 12 for this series and Beverly is going to need to at least stay on the floor for a high percentage of that time. With Houston being shallow on defense, Beverley’s play on Westbrook will be vital for their chances.

The same can be said on the opposite side for Andre Roberson. Roberson is holding Harden to 20.5 ppg during their meetings, much below his average. However, Oklahoma City’s biggest x-factor will be Victor Oladipo. So far he’s shown signs that he can be special throughout the season. But he needs to come up big in this series. With Beverley’s duties on Westbrook, Oklahoma City will need another scorer to step up from the backcourt and this could be Oladipo’s chance to breakthrough. A solid 12-14 ppg, numbers he was already above in Orlando, from Oladipo could make a huge swing in how this series turns out.

This series will come down to who can slow down the other team’s juggernaut the best. And looking on paper, Houston would seem to just have the better overall team. The front courts of both teams can bang, so this series will come down to who ca be most efficient with their shots and scoring. Houston’s ability to shoot threes in high volume might be too much for Westbrook and co. to keep up with. My prediction is Houston takes the series in 6. Westbrook’s sheer force of will can give OKC a fighting chance in this series and I can see them edging out some close victories. However, Houston’s super-efficient offense will be too much for Oklahoma City to match every night. I hope I’m wrong.

Series Prediction: Rockets in 6 games

Markus Murden
Baseline Times NBA Staff Writer