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2013 NBA Playoffs: Oklahoma City Thunder vs Houston Rockets, Game 1 preview

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The 2013 NBA playoffs kick off tonight for the Thunder in their quest to get another shot at the title. Standing in their way - their one-time brother-at-arms, James Harden. What's going to go down when the Beard is back in town?

Beat the beard, win the game
Beat the beard, win the game
W. Bennett Berry

2012-2013 NBA Season
The Houston Rockets (45-37)
The Oklahoma City Thunder (60-22)
April 21, 2013
Chesapeake Energy Arena, Oklahoma City, OK
8:30 PM CST
WWLS the Sports Animal (98.1), SportsTalk 790
Enemy Blogs: The Dream Shake, Red94
Previous Meetings: Nov 28th, Dec 29th, Feb 20 (Thunder won Season Series 2-1)
Injury Report: n/a
Probable Starters
Russell Westbrook PG Jeremy Lin
Thabo Sefolosha SG James Harden
Kevin Durant SF Chandler Parsons
Serge Ibaka PF Greg Smith
Kendrick Perkins C Omer Asik


From the moment when the Oklahoma City Thunder grimly and defiantly watched the clock run out on them as they observed the Miami Heat begin to celebrate winning the championship, a lasting image has been emblazoned in our minds ever since. I'm sure you remember it. It's this one:

(image courtesy US Presswire)

Durant is trying to keep his emotions in check, Harden is playing it cool, and Westbrook looks like he wants to fight a mountain lion to let off some steam.

That lasting image that we had, as our hopes ran out with the clock, was supposed to sustain us through a long off-season and a longer regular season. The trio was supposed to be together to seek out vindication, to finish what had been started.

The trio is together again, ready to begin the long trek back to the finals. What a cruel jape it is that one of them is in the wrong colored jersey.

Here we are though, and perhaps this is the only way it could be. The departed brother has returned to the town that helped make him what he is, and now it is his responsibility to show OKC how wrong they were to let him go. Meanwhile, the Thunder have the decided opportunity to show not only James but the entire league that they knew what they were doing when they traded him away.

What will we be in for tonight? I will be paying attention to 3 elements:

  1. How aggressively will the Thunder attack Harden defensively? Harden is a rhythm shooter. If you let him get comfortable, as OKC did on Feb. 20th, he will engage in his multi-faceted efficiency game non-stop. However, if the Thunder attack him in the same way they attack a player like Tony Parker, bringing the defense to him instead of waiting for the attack, they can force Harden away from his strengths and challenge other Rockets players to fill in the gap. OKC should know that Houston only goes as far as Harden takes them, so their best course of action is to eliminate Harden from the equation.
  2. How passively is Kevin Durant going to play? Durant has striven to become a complete playmaker this season. At times it makes him look LeBron-esque, and other times it makes him look a little bit like Chris Webber; i.e. divinely talented but forgetful of when it's time for him to dominate offensively. Look for Durant to be more aggressive early on so that he forces Houston to bring double-teams. Only then should he start looking to spread the ball around.
  3. Will the Thunder offense make it easy or difficult on the Rockets defense? Any team can get hot in the NBA for prolonged stretches. That's why we continuously see teams like the Wizards and Cavaliers win games against the Thunder. However, too often OKC makes it easy on bad teams with bad defenses to defend players who should not be defensible. Only by using all of their offensive pieces can OKC showcase the vast disparity in talent between themselves and Houston. To do otherwise balances out the equation, and not in OKC's favor.
While game 1's are typically a "feeling it out" game and the offenses may be a bit rusty, I believe that the Thunder are going to seek to send an early message to the Rockets that they are entering a playoff world to which they are unaccustomed. Playoffs?
These games are a different animal all together, and the Thunder need to treat it as such. Perhaps that is why they lost in a shoot-out to the Rockets on February 20th; it was not that they had played poorly, but that they treated the Rockets as if they could not survive a simple run-and-gun track meet.

However, if the Thunder are locked in defensively and are seeking to control the game by marginalizing Harden, they stand a good chance to jump on Houston early and get their playoffs started off on the right foot. To do otherwise gives an 8th seed, which is no longer a playoff death sentence, a glimmer of hope that could change the complexion of everything.

Game 1 is finally here.


Prediction: Thunder 100, Rockets 90

If you are looking for tickets to upcoming games, you can find Oklahoma City Thunder tickets here.