Submitted by Jim Hurley on Sunday, April 21, 2013 at 8:00 AM
The eighth and final NBA series opener this weekend features James Harden of the Houston Rockets going back to face his former Oklahoma City Thunder teammates in the #1-8 matchup in the Western Conference playoffs.
It’s easy to imagine that Harden himself wanted to face the Thunder. He has something to prove! His teammates have to be demoralized that they blew a chance at a #6 seed or a #7 seed (and inconsistent San Antonio) with late season losses in games they could have won.
The Rockets looked to lose intensity once they had clinched a playoff spot. That’s the worst possible mindset for this kind of team…relaxing once you’ve climbed the mountain. There’s a lot of work still to do at the top of the mountain!
Can the Rockets regain that intensity and give a scare to the Thunder? Is this three-point attack a legitimate threat to take down anybody in a best-of-seven sprint? Let’s run the series through our gauntlet of indicators to see if any big surprises are in store…
WON-LOST RECORDS VS. .500 OR BETTER
Oklahoma City: 30-17
Houston’s record is actually pretty good for a #8 seed. You saw a few teams over in the East that were much worse than this. If you’re that close to .500…it means you have a chance to get hot and win a playoff series. Of course, GETTING HOT is the key. Oklahoma City is the much better team based on the numbers above. Houston isn’t significantly outclassed…but they are the inferior team.
OFFENSIVE EFFICIENCY RANKINGS
Oklahoma City: #2
Houston’s strength is their ability to make a lot of treys. But, even with a season of doing that at a very high level, they STILL weren’t as efficient as Oklahoma City on that side of the ball. You have to give them a lot of credit for using a patchwork collection to roughly simulate what OKC does in scoring volume. It’s not the same thing as being OKC. And, the Thunder are able to score much more consistently because attacking the basket forces free throws. Durant and Westbrook will go to the line more in tandem than Harden will individually.
DEFENSIVE EFFICIENCY RANKINGS
Oklahoma City: #3
It’s not well understood that Oklahoma City is a defensive juggernaut. You know Indiana hurts people over in the East. You know Memphis imposes its will and gets stops as the best defense in the West. Oklahoma City is right up there with them because their athleticism gets steals, blocks shots, and grabs rebounds. If you’re a Houston fan…you can be happy in the knowledge that a three-point based offense can do some damage against athleticism. But…if you’re a Houston fan…how is that league average Rockets defense going to slow down the Thunder’s offensive attack?
REBOUND RATE RANKINGS
Oklahoma City: #5
Might as well make it a clean sweep. Oklahoma City is better on offense (even with Houston making a bunch of treys)…Oklahoma City is better on defense by quite a bit…and Oklahoma City is better on the glass. Houston was a nice story this year. Oklahoma City has a chance to become THE story this year if they can build on last year’s trip to the Finals and take down the Heat several weeks down the road.
Oklahoma City: #1
Oklahoma City’s athletes love to run and dunk. That has made them the fastest team in the NBA. The media hasn’t done a very good job this year of explaining to people that OKC is faster than everybody else, and plays great defense at that fast pace. Be sure YOU have a full grasp of that as you handicap this series and the full playoffs. You may be dealing with Thunder games for the next several weeks!
If Houston makes a bunch of treys…then that counteracts their inferiority in the areas of defense and rebounding. They’ll have a “chance” to compete in this series and win a couple of games. If the treys aren’t falling, it’s going to get ugly. James Harden will wear down from trying to carry the Rockets on his back. Jeremy Lin will foul out trying to slow down Russell Westbrook. Maybe Houston hangs tough before fading. Maybe Houston’s fade started a few games ago.
JIM HURLEY has been running his game (and all other games this weekend) through his computer simulation program to account for every possibility. He’s confident he has the series mapped out. To find out if Sunday’s game qualified for serious play, check out the posted plays selections at this website. Sunday’s schedule is HUGE with a full day of action in NBA and MLB. And, the unique layout of the schedule helps you maximize money management by re-investing early winnings in later starts.
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Back with you tomorrow to preview Game Two of the Chicago/Brooklyn series that’s set for Monday Night. Get ready for A WILD RIDE through the NBA PLAYOFFS with JIM HURLEY’S NETWORK!