Published: Fri, April 21, 2017
Sports | By Nelson Rowe

NBA Playoffs 2017: How to watch Thunder vs

It's clear that the only person capable of at least holding Russell Westbrook back a little bit in this Houston v Oklahoma first round series is Patrick Beverley.

However, the OKC Thunder have been playing the cards that have been dealt to them all season and this series will be no exception. He'll now be forced to do the same against a D'Antoni offense that works off of the same tricks as last year's Kerr offense - pick and rolls and three-pointers. This might be the most debated MVP race in years between Russell Westbrook and James Harden and even Kawhi Leonard, so of course the National Basketball Association gods have gifted us this matchup in the first round. ". I'm happy to be a part of it to say I had a triple-double in the National Basketball Association and to say I did it in the same season that Russell and James and LeBron all those guys went insane this season doing it". Houston ended the season with a 55-27 record and are looking to make a deep run in the playoffs. Ironically, Harden and Westbrook only combined for one triple-double in their four meetings this season. The Rockets may actually just accept that and stay under the screens and hope that the Thunder miss plenty of their long-range attempts, which is a fair strategy considering their roster. The Rockets could decide to do something similar - perhaps put Ryan Anderson in that role and allow him to get in positions defending space around the rim and give the team more bodies on the defensive boards.

And yet, for all that scoring firepower, the defense was often an entirely different story. For a team that has championship aspirations, their defensive shortcomings should certainly be a cause for concern. That game saw him: pass Robertson for the single-season triple-double mark, pass Chamberlain on the career triple-doubles mark (78) and set the record for career 50-point triple-doubles.

Harden notched 22 triple-doubles this season. Harden has the efficiency, the passing, the superior regular-season team. Victor Oladipo hasn't been on this kind of stage before and will need to step up as a reliable second option as a scorer and Steven Adams must not only control the paint but also maintain his stance as an interior defender. Usually overpowered and outgunned, the Thunder often needed every point, rebound and assist from Westbrook to stay within striking range on most nights. The takeaway was that there are diminishing returns when Westbrook spends overly extended amounts of time on the floor. It's triple-Russell vs. the uber-efficient Harden, the latter of which boasts a better team.

Westbrook, the triple-double machine who singlehandedly carried the Thunder after Kevin Durant bailed, probably will.

For only the second time in the last eight year, the Thunder had a losing road record during the regular season. OKC won the series in six games, but Westbrook went down with a tragic knee injury in Game 2 after a cheap shot from Beverley. Andre Roberson is one of the team's most frequent spot-up shooters, but his 27.9 percent shooting on these opportunities isn't going to move the needle. Look beyond Westbrook vs Harden vs Leonard vs LeBron.

Mention something about sustaining production through the season and he'll be quick to remind you he plays the same way every game. Before I proceed, (I'm just trying to delay the inevitable here) I will state that there are four primary candidates for the award, and you could make a convincing argument for all four candidates when doing an MVP prediction.

2016-17 season stats (per game averages): 81 games played, 31.6 points, 10.7 rebounds, 10.4 assists, 1.6 steals, 42.5% field goal percentage, 34.3% three-point percentage, 84.5% free throw percentage. Look for the Rockets to capitalize on their homecourt advantage in an emotional (and tight) series opener.

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