Five Houston Players The OKC Thunder Need To Stop

Go out to your garage or nearest Home Depot or Lowe's and find your nearest pitchfork.

Perfect, because I'm destined to incite a riot by trying to settle the NBA Most Valuable Player debate. Of course, it's more likely to go the other way as the Thunder exploit the Rockets on the offensive glass, but it's a wrinkle that makes the series interesting. Beverley is going to have to just play tight on him in transition and perhaps be ready for Westbrook to blow past him and make him look silly.

Beverley isn't a well-known name, yet the 28-year-old guard averaged 9.5 points, 5.9 rebounds and 4.2 assists per game during the regular season, with the Rockets seeing their net rating jump from plus-3.4 to plus-7.3 when Beverley was on the court.

Ah, the elusive 50-35-65 club now has LeBron James' company. Houston experienced this success without transcendent performances from its MVP candidate, Harden. They have two wins against the Boston Celtics, as well as a victory against the San Antonio Spurs and Cleveland Cavaliers. It's common sense to say that the Cavaliers wouldn't be the #2 seed (should be the #1 seed but that's none of my business) in the Eastern Conference without the 13-time All-Star. Game 1 should do a nice job of telling how the series will play out. You can't go wrong with Russell, and you can't go wrong with James. When applied and focused on the defensive end, James is inarguably one of the best defenders in the league and can defend all five positions on the floor. Houston also beat Oklahoma City three out of four times in the regular season. The Rockets' bench is much deeper than their opponents and you figure that will come into play as this series progresses and the crunch time minutes get altered depending on how games are flowing and what the foul situation is. He averaged a triple double for the season. A guaranteed lock for first team NBA All-Defense, Leonard is hands down the best perimeter defender in the NBA, and it's not logically arguable. He had 14 points and seven rebounds.

In fact, the Rockets led the league with 14.1 three-pointers made per game, a mark that blows the Thunder's 26th-ranked average of 8.4 out of the water. In the final meeting between the teams, the Rockets led by as many as 25 points in their wire-to-wire 137-125 win.

Houston won't be intimidated and likely welcomes all the attention that this matchup will bring in order to prove it is a real threat to the West's top two teams.

How did Harden and company respond?

Finally, it goes without saying that Westbrook must be on every night for the team to have a chance. 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.

The two superstars will both notch triple-doubles, but the discrepancy in the three-point shooting may be too much to overcome on the road for Oklahoma City. I do not believe that gap is wide enough to categorically deny Westbrook the MVP award.

Despite that, Westbrook has had a historic season against the most stacked position in the National Basketball Association - say what you will about the usage, how he doesn't make his teammates better and chasing stats, but it's clear no team has truly stopped him this season. For Westbrook, the next best players for the Thunder would be Steven Adams, Victor Olidipo, and Enes Kanter. Even as a few potential wins slipped away, the Thunder maintained the long view throughout the season, and it was easy to do because Westbrook accepted the plan. If the Oklahoma City Thunder were a Windows computer, Russell Westbrook would be the System 32.

Westbrook ended a scoring drought of nearly 3 1/2 minutes for the Thunder with a layup after that.

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