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Thunder Extra: Thunder-Rockets storylines

21 April 2017

But the MVP victor, which won't be announced until June 26, will be one of the two players going head-to-head in the first round of the playoffs in a series that starts Sunday: Oklahoma City's Russell Westbrook or Houston's James Harden. Without Russell Westbrook, the Oklahoma City Thunder are a top contender for #1 pick in the National Basketball Association draft.

ATS records: Oklahoma City 45-36-1, Houston 42-40.

James Harden supporters would fall into the category of the player who means most to his particular team that particular season.

Westbrook finished the year averaging 31.6 points, 10.7 rebounds and 10.4 assists, the second triple-double season ever.

Even though Kevin Durant completely disrupted the balance of the league with his decision to jump on the gravy train in Golden State, both Russell Westbrook and James Harden did their best to make the rest of the National Basketball Association worth watching this past season. Westbrook could win at least one game by himself, giving Oklahoma City a chance to keep their title hopes alive beyond the first round.

Both Harden and Westbrook spend inordinate amounts of time on-court with the ball in their hands and are capable of creating their own shot, and/or getting to the rim at any moment.

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Before you read this, I need you to do me a favor. "I know he competes". Firing with reckless abandon alongside Harden are Sixth Man of the Year candidates Eric Gordon and Louis Williams, the perennially great sharpshooter Ryan Anderson and the defensively stout Patrick Beverley.

"Obviously he's talented, really explosive (and) athletic", Harden said.

Westbrook acknowledged it will be "cool" to match up against his friend in this best-of-seven series.

"The medical staff does a great job with all his data throughout his entire career, how many minutes he's played, all those kind of things", Donovan said of Westbrook. "We've got to protect the 3-point line and make it (difficult for them)".

They will be in the same cities for at least a week beginning Saturday when the Thunder get into Houston, then later in the week when they head back to OKC for a couple more games.

Still, I think both teams probably feel confident on either court.

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It's the first postseason win since April 27, 2008, with Phoenix for Houston coach Mike D'Antoni, whose teams were swept in the first round in his last two trips to the playoffs in 2011 with the Knicks and 2013 with the Lakers. Andre Roberson is one of the team's most frequent spot-up shooters, but his 27.9 percent shooting on these opportunities isn't going to move the needle. He's going to go hard no matter what.

Mention something about sustaining production through the season and he'll be quick to remind you he plays the same way every game. He has other ones, too: "I've got to check the film for that" or just starting off an answer by saying "Definitely, definitely" as he searches for another one of his go-to phrases. Oklahoma City is armed to the teeth with bigs - Steven Adams, Enes Kanter, Taj Gibson and Domantas Sabonis - yet was unable to overwhelm the Rockets with its advantage in size and bulk. In games in which he didn't, OKC was 14-26. Many fans expected the Thunder to completely miss the playoffs after Kevin Durant chose to sign with Golden State over Oklahoma City. Capela has emerged as a solid defender that can block shots and rebound, averaging 8.1 rebounds and 1.2 blocks for the season.

Houston opens at Toyota Center, a right they earned by grabbing the league's third best overall record during the regular season.

He takes pride in being a spark off the bench.

"It shows that guys growing up in the inner city of Los Angeles can make it and be something", Westbrook said. "If our first unit gets the lead, we want to (extend) the lead even more". It's also worth making the effort to catch this one because there should be any number of highlights every night that result from either team getting out and running.

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Thunder Extra: Thunder-Rockets storylines