Here at Hardwood Houdini we’re going to deviate from the norm and give you some perspective about other series going on in the rest of the league. Coming shortly I will also have a Clippers-Grizzlies series preview.
The return of the Beard will most likely prove to be the #1 story line about this series. Before the start of the season the Thunder decided to trade James Harden to Houston in favor of giving him the max and going into the luxury tax. It was a heavily debated decision as James Harden went on to have one of the best individual seasons of the year.
Well now we’re in the playoffs where are all these storylines will collide to provide with what could possibly be one of the best 1st round matchups of the year. The Thunder won the season series 2-1, both wins were blowout victories but in their final matchup James Harden put in one of the best scoring outputs of the season scoring 46 points on 16-19 shooting. Lets take a look at both teams’ regular seasons and review what is necessary for either to have a shot at winning the series.
This season OKC proved the doubters wrong who thought they’d fall off because of losing Harden but instead the opposite and clinched the #1 seed in the west along with their 60 win season in Oklahoma City. Led by Kevin Durant and Russell Westbrook Oklahoma had the leagues 2nd best offensive rating(points per 100 possessions) and the leagues best net rating(11.0). Both marks up from last year. They are primarily and iso based team and Scott Brooks really lets Westbrook and Durant dictate most possessions(14% of their possessions end in Isolations). A big jump in their improvement this year can be attributed to the Ibaka’s jump in offensive production. His ORTG jumped about 4 points while his TS%(True Shooting %) jumped about 6 points. The biggest weapon OKC has is obviously Kevin Durant. The 6’10 pure shooting wing had one of the greatest offensive seasons ever joining the 50/40/90 club,(50% FG, 40% 3ptFG, 90% FT) a club including only 9 other players and only two have done so while averaging at least 20 points.
Here are the keys for OKC to win the series:
1.Don’t over help on Houston Drives:
Part of the reason Houston has been so great on offense this year is their ability to kick it out on drives. Harden and Lin have been great this year at penetrating into the lane and kicking it out to their army of spot up shooters (Parsons,Delfino and Garcia). Parsons especially has been great this year as he is shooting 40% from deep in spot up situations.
2.Utilize of Small Ball Lineups:
By Small Ball lineup I mean lineups featuring Durant at the 4, a position he only played about 17% of the time. If OKC wants a chance at the title this year, it would best suit them to mimic the team that eliminated them last year and play Durant more at the 4. Lebron played the 4 46% of the time he was on the court and while his strength makes it easier for him to play bigger forwards, Durant’s height and shooting ability offsets what he lacks in strength. This season when he played the Thunder had a net rating of +13.6 as opposed to their +9.1 net rating when Durant logged minutes at the 3. It’s time for Brooks to get Perkins off the court and embrace small ball.
3. STOP THE BEARD:
Let me just say this, James Harden is Houston’s offense. There is no questioning the he is the catalyst to this squad’s high paced pick and roll offense. He gives Houston the credible ball handler and decision maker that without they’d struggle to get into sets. He’s an old school player who has redefined the term “Old Man Game”. If OKC can somehow find a way to limit him in any way(Thabo Sefolosha will play a huge role in this) they shouldn’t have a problem taking care of them.
Houston had similar success on the offensive side of the ball ranking 6th in offensive rating. With James Harden they were able to create one of the most simplistic, deadly offenses in the league. It’s a offense heavily reliant on Harden’s ability to create off the dribble and off of Pick and Rolls. With an army of 3 point shooters surrounding Harden and Lin this team is hard to stop.It’s an immensely fast paced offense(Lead the league in Pace) that values shots at the rim and 3 pointers. This team is almost allergic to any shots that aren’t 3 pointers or at the rim, dont believe me here is there shot distribution chart via NBA.com/stats
Houston’s Keys to winning the series:
1. Keep Omer Asik out of foul trouble:
Defensive savant Omer Asik will see his share Durant/Westbrook drives at the rim this series and so it’s very important that Asik defends the rim effectively without fouling. His importance to this D can’t be understated as Houston’s defensive rating is a -6 without him. With defensive sieves like Harden and Lin on the perimeter Asik becomes their most important player in this regard.
2. Don’t play like a young team, be creative:
It seems unfair for me to expect a team as young as Houston to not play like their age but it’s necessary for them to win. Houston can’t win if they get stagnant and resort to iso heavy basketball. If they get out and run in transition and trust that their basic Pick and Roll based offense can do the job they have a shot to extend this series past it’s expiration date.
3. Get out and RUN!:
Houston led the league in Pace(Team possessions per game) and they were 2nd in fast break points. A huge chunk of their offense(17%) comes from transition opportunities and it’s important that they continue their Running & Gunning ways.
Series Prediction: OKC in 5
Houston is an exciting team but their also a young team going against an OKC team that’s not playing around. Houston’s offense is one that can be pretty easily game planned to stop in playoff series. While I usually hate using experience as a factor in most cases, it’s a huge boost in the playoffs. Durant’s coming off a historically efficient season and Russell Westbrook is primed for another great postseason. The Thunder are a team on a mission to get back to the finals and they’re not going to let the Rockets be anything more than a minor inconvenience.