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Thunder-Rockets: Western Conference Quarterfinals Game 1, “So, Old Friend, We Meet Again.”
At this time last year, the Thunder team was gearing up for the playoffs with their “big 3″ of Durant, Westbrook, and Harden. Trying to picture the Thunder without James Harden was difficult to do, and most Thunder fans didn’t even want to entertain the thought. And then the unavoidable happened.
James Harden had figured out his worth, and wanted to be given money and minutes accordingly.
I honestly wanted the Thunder to go into the red and sign him back to a max contract. Bennett didn’t. Besides, Presti knew we couldn’t give Harden the minutes he wanted anyway. So Presti did the only thing he could do, deal Harden for maximum value.
Was it the right move? Honestly, that question is still up in the air.
Harden has averaged 25.9 PPG since the move to Houston. He only has 4.8 rebounds and 5.8 assists a game, but his +/- sits at a staggering +24. The Rockets missed the playoffs last year. Add Harden and Jeremy Lin, and all of a sudden, their squad is back above .500, with a 45-37 record to end the regular season and a spot in the post-season to show for it.
I thought OKC was going to be hurting following the loss of such a dynamic scorer. It turns out I could not have been more wrong. Martin doesn’t quite post the numbers of Harden, 14 PPG, 2.3 RPG, 1.4 APG, and a +/- of +11 (which is still quite good), but he also doesn’t see the amount of minutes Harden does either, so he has less time to rack up numbers. Granted, a strike-shortened season last year made it almost impossible to hit the 60-win plateau, but the Thunder managed to do it this year without James Harden. That has to help them feel good about themselves as they head into their first round match-up. Plus, they only totaled 3 more losses this year than they did in last year’s strike-shortened season, which cost every NBA team a total of 16 games last year.
There is going to be a lot of intrigue in this first round match-up. Currently, Houston ranks 2nd in the league in points-per-game, while OKC only ranks 3rd. Where the Thunder hold a significant advantage is on the defense, where OKC ranks 9th in opponents’ points-per-game. Houston, on the other hand, is near the bottom of the league, at 28th.
You know Harden is going to be looking to prove to his former teammates that he can do some serious damage to them as a starter. But you also know OKC is going to look to make Harden regret his decision to leave OKC. All of the drama comes to you tonight from the Chesapeake Energy Arena at 8:30/7:30CST. The game will be broadcast on both Fox Sports Oklahoma and TNT. Can’t get to a TV? The game will also be broadcast via WWLS: The Sports Animal.
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