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Thunder draw Rockets in first round of playoffs

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Russell Westbrook and James Harden, the odds-on favorites to win the MVP award, meet in round one of the NBA playoffs.
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OKLAHOMA CITY – Two of the odds-on favorites to win this year’s NBA Most Valuable Player award will meet in the first round of the playoffs—Russell Westbrook vs. James Harden. Thunder vs. Rockets. The voting for the MVP honor ends tomorrow, so the playoff matchup will have no effect on the balloting.

Russ finished the season with his second scoring title in the league with a 31.6-point average. He also won the title two years ago with a 28-point average. Westbrook broke a 55-year-old triple-double season record with 42 this year, and he was the second player in NBA history to average a triple-double for the season.

Harden finished second in scoring this year with 29.1 ppg. Harden had the NBA’s most assists per game with 11.2 and Westbrook finished third with 10.4 assists per game. Harden’s push for MVP begins with a better team record. The Beard also is the first player in NBA history to record 2,000 points, 900 assists and 600 rebounds in a single season.

Oklahoma City (47-35) finished sixth in the Western Conference while Houston (55-27) placed third. So, the Rockets will have home-court advantage. Game 1 will be at 8 p.m. Sunday in Houston.

The Thunder lost to Denver Wednesday night to end the season, and Westbrook saw minimal time in both games. He did not play in Tuesday’s 100-98 victory over Minnesota. He played only 18 minutes (scoring 5 points) in Wednesday’s 111-105 loss to the Nuggets.

Rockets won season series

Houston beat OKC 3 games to 1 this season and all but one game were close. The Thunder only won the first meeting, 105-103, on November 16 at Chesapeake Energy Arena. Oklahoma City shot 48 percent from 3-point range and held Houston to 13 fourth quarter points to win the contest.

The Rockets led, 90-85, after three periods, but OKC outscored then 20-13 in the fourth.

Andre Roberson’s Alley Oop pass from Westbrook with 1:43 remaining gave OKC the deciding lead at 102-100. Westbrook also made a slam dunk with 5.5 seconds left to give the Thunder a five-point lead. Eric Gordon nailed a 3-pointer with .9 seconds remaining, the only Houston points in the final 6:27.

Westbrook led the locals with 30 points, and Victor Oladipo poured in 29 more. Three Houston players led with 13 points apiece—Harden, Gordon and Clint Capela.

Both teams met again at the Peake on December 9, and Houston won, 102-99.

Gordon’s 3-pointer, with 9:22 until halftime, broke a 28-all deadlock and the Rockets never trailed the rest of the way. Houston led by nine points going into the final period and led by 13 before OKC clawed back to get within two points a couple off times late. Westbrook missed a 3-point attempt with 6.9 seconds to go, which would have given OKC a lead.

Roberson fouled Trevor Ariza who made both free throws and Anthony Morrow missed from downtown with 2.9 seconds remaining, which would have tied the contest.

Houston capitalized with 29 points off 19 OKC turnovers. Westbrook scored his seventh straight triple-double and 12th of the season. He poured in 27 points, grabbed 10 rebounds and dished out 10 assists against the Rockets. Harden led Houston with 21 points and 12 assists.

The Rockets beat the Thunder, 118-116, on January 9 at the Toyota Center. The game was tied at 116-116 with 1:49 to go. Westbrook’s 16-foot jumper failed, and the Rockets missed two shots on the same possession.

Westbrook’s driving bank shot with 52 seconds left didn’t go in. Gordon missed a 3-pointer, and Roberson blocked Harden’s 3-point attempt. Westbrook missed a 3-pointer with 5.9 seconds remaining. Jerami Grant fouled the Rockets’ Nene with .7 seconds to go. Nene made both free throws to seal the game, but Enes Kanter’s Alley Oop layup, off Oladipo’s pass, failed with .4 seconds left.

Westbrook scored 49 points and hit a career-high eight 3-pointers, but failed to score a triple-double with 8 rebounds and 5 assists. Harden led Houston again with 26 points and 12 assists.

Both teams didn’t meet again until March 26, and this one wasn’t close as the Rockets won, 137-125, at the Toyota Center. Houston led from the outset and never relinquished it.

Oklahoma City’s 125 points on 50 percent shooting, racking up 27 assists and outrebounding the foe by six, likely would get a win, but the Rockets hit 63.3 percent from the floor and bombed 20 from beyond the arc.

Roberson, who had been a menace to Harden, got into foul trouble early, which disrupted his rhythm and forcing him to change his strategy. Roberson was whistled twice in the first quarter, which left little room for error. He finished the game with five personal fouls.

Harden had his best shooting performance against the Thunder shooting 8 of 15 from the field. He finished with 22 points and 12 assists. He had averaged 20 points and shot 29 percent in the first three contests with OKC.

Westbrook scored his 36th triple-double of the year with 39 points, 11 rebounds, and 13 assists.

Don’t look for the Thunder to get past the Rockets. Russ doesn’t have a consistent supporting cast to help him like Harden does with outside shooters like Ariza, Gordon, Ryan Anderson, and Lou Williams.

VegasInsider has installed the Thunder as a 225 to 1 favorite to win the world championship. Houston is 30 to 1.

Thunder-Rockets playoff schedule

Game 1:  Sun. April 16  Oklahoma City at Houston, 8 p.m., TNT

Game 2:  Wed. April 19  Oklahoma City at Houston, 7 p.m., TNT
Game 3:  Fri. April 21  Houston at Oklahoma City, 8:30 p.m., ESPN
Game 4:  Sun. April 23  Houston at Oklahoma City, 2:30 p.m., ABC
Game 5:  Tue. April 25  Oklahoma City at Houston, TBD (if necessary)
Game 6:  Thu. April 27  Houston at Oklahoma City, TBD (if necessary)
Game 7:  Sat. April 29  Oklahoma City at Houston, TNT (if necessary)

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Ray Dozier

Ray Dozier is the author of Legends of Oklahoma Sooners Football and two editions of The...

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