2017 Hoops Inq. Playoff Preview: Rockets (3) - Thunder (6)

2017 Hoops Inq. Playoff Preview: Rockets (3) - Thunder (6)

Series Schedule:

Game 1: Sunday, 4/16 @ Houston

Game 2: Wednesday, 4/19 @Houston

Game 3: Friday, 4/21 @ Oklahoma City

Game 4: Sunday, 4/23 @ Oklahoma City

Game 5 (if necessary): Tuesday, 4/25 @ Houston

Game 6 (if necessary): Thursday, 4/27 @ Oklahoma City

Game 7 (if necessary): Saturday, 4/29 @Houston

Regular Season Series Results:

The Rockets won the regular season battle by winning 3 out of 4 games against the Thunder.

Players To Watch:

Houston Rockets:

James Harden: Imagine playing some of the best basketball humanly possible. Imagine leading a mercurial team of gunners to 55 wins and the 3rd best record in the NBA a season after languishing in mediocrity. Now imagine that everyone cares more about your former teammate setting a triple double record while winning fewer games. Imagine matching up against that former teammate in the first round of the playoffs as the top 2 MVP candidates. Would that put a chip on you shoulder? Sure it would. Expect to see the most motivated version of James Harden we've ever seen in this series.

Clint Capela: In a series full of fireworks, Capela will be asked to do the dirty work defensively. He needs to be active enough to keep the likes of Steven Adams from dominating the paint. He'll also be the last line of defense against the drives of Russell Westbrook.

Eric Gordon: After his first healthy season in what feels like forever, we get to see Eric Gordon play a pivotal role on a team expected to advance in the playoffs. For now, there are more questions than answers. Does he have another gear? Can he be the secondary scorer that adequately deputizes James Harden when his opponent is specifically game planning for him? Oklahoma City Thunder: 

Russell Westbrook:  He has already done the impossible, setting a record for triple doubles in the regular season. But none of that matters in the playoffs. To pull off the upset, he has to be head and shoulders the best player in the series. That will be no easy task when going head to head against his biggest challenge in the MVP race. Someone once asked if "it was about winning." Well in the playoffs, it's win or go home, no matter what you do individually.

Victor Oladipo: Oladipo has the most to prove this series. He needs to establish himself as the second scorer he was brought in to be. If he plays well, the Thunder become a much tougher team. If he doesn't play well, Westbrook will be all alone like Denzel at the end of Training Day. Look for the Rockets to force him to prove he can beat them when they focus their defensive cross-hairs on Westbrook.

Steven Adams: Adams can take over a series with his rim protection, pick and roll defense, and rebounding. He represents the one outright advantage the Thunder have in their matchup against the Rockets. When he is at the top of his game, he gives the Thunder a chance to keep the Rockets from running riot with all their firepower.

Three out of 4 of the games between these teams came down to he final possession, but make no mistake about it: the Rockets are expected to win this series. The Thunder have to try and force the Rockets to play a half court, grind it out game and hope for timely shot making from their supporting cast. The Rockets will want to get out in transition where they tend to hit threes in bunches and force Russell Westbrook into his hero-ball tendencies. As the series wears on, look for Houston's depth to overwhelm a Thunder team that has needed a superhuman effort from Russell Westbrook to get this far. Rockets in 6.