For the third time of the season, the Oklahoma City Thunder face off against James Harden and the Houston Rockets. The popular topic surrounding this game is easily Russell Westbrook vs. James Harden; the two front-runners for league MVP this season. The comparison between the two has become redundant, everyone knows about their talents. After two early season matchups, the teams split the games and there were two distinct differences in the way OKC performed.
The Thunder backcourt.
In game one, the Thunder squeaked passed the Rockets 105-103 on the back of Westbrook and Victor Oladipo’s 59 combined points. The Rockets of late, have been a superior offensive team but inferior defensively. Although their defense has improved this season, the offense has been a significant aid in Houston’s third in the Western Conference (27-9) record.
Another concern for the Thunder moving forward would be Patrick Beverley, a player who’s proven to be Westbrook’s kryptonite. He simply gets in Russell’s head, making him do foolish things with the ball (mostly hoisting up pointless threes). Beverley didn’t play in the first game and coincidentally, he played in the second game and Westbrook went 8-of-25 from the field including 0-of-7 from three. Granted, he finished with 27 points, but it took 25 total shots which takes away from his fellow teammates.
In this game, Russell and Oladipo have to find a happy-medium. Houston only has one player that’s defensive minded in the backcourt and he can’t guard both Victor and Russell at the same time. Meaning, one of these guys will have to have a big day if not both for the Thunder to go up (2-1) in the season series.
Try to stop everyone that’s not Harden.
It takes a village to win games like this, meaning, no one player (Harden or Westbrook) can literally win the game by themselves, someone else has to do something. That’s been the case more so for the Rockets. The one time they defeated OKC, everyone contributed. Not only did Harden finish with 21 points, 12 assists, and 9 rebounds, but the Thunder went wrong by letting four other players finish in double figures. Between those five players were 76 points. This won’t fly for Oklahoma City tonight if they want to succeed.
On a great note, Oladipo is back into the rotation and playing very well. He’s averaged 17 points since returning, taking some of the load off Westbrook. Cameron Payne has been playing with the D-League affiliate, OKC Blue prepping for his return on Saturday at home against the Denver Nuggets.