Sports

Thunder will likely play Russell Westbrook more minutes in playoffs

Thunder will likely play Russell Westbrook more minutes in playoffs

It doesn't seem fair.

Friends and former teammates, Russell Westbrook and James Harden put up similar, spectacular numbers, dominating games and debate topics for months. That's an accomplishment that has been 55 long years in the brewing and which many believed might never be achieved again.

2016-17 season stats (per game averages): 74 games played, 25.5 points, 5.8 rebounds, 3.5 assists, 1.8 steals, 48.5% field goal percentage, 38.1% three-point percentage, 88.0% free throw percentage.

But Portland coach Terry Stotts said Friday that his status for the first-round opener in Oakland on Sunday was "undetermined". Middling at best, the Rockets' defensive rating came in at 106.4, good for 18th in the National Basketball Association and even with the Philadelphia 76ers and Milwaukee Bucks. My prediction? That goes to James Harden and the Rockets in six games. In games which those two have been healthy though, this has been a dominant team. Oklahoma City is in the unfamiliar role of underdog after reaching the Western Conference finals last season before also being eliminated by the Warriors.

The Clippers will take another crack at it beginning against the Utah Jazz and their emerging French big man Rudy Gobert. 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. They rely heavily on making three pointers. Without James Harden, the Houston Rockets likely make it in as an eight seed in the Western Conference. Just go out and compete at a high level, and the game will tell you what to do.

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This is what they've lived on and this is what they should continue to live on. Rockets won 118 to 116. Few people have it in them to use as much energy as Westbrook did this season. If the Houston defense can force them instead of committing them, that's a big win. Houston did so by blending what it does well with negating in part what makes Oklahoma City so potent, excluding its reliance on Westbrook. The Thunder rank #16 in points allowed per game and #10 in defensive rating, while Houston ranks #26 in points allowed per game and #18 in defensive rating.

Basically, both of these teams are going to give the ball away. Houston had 31 second-chance points to just four by the Thunder. He doesn't apply himself all the time in the regular season simply because he doesn't have to. This was an entertaining matchup in last year's second round, with the Blazers fighting hard, though losing in five games. "He could play a variety of different positions in the series".

Easier said than done, of course, but it's still a key.

"It's an fantastic accomplishment", Nuggets coach Mike Malone said of Westbrook. However, Russ Westbrook really likes to shoot the ball.

Although the Thunder certainly have the ability to cause a disruptive series, it won't be on Sunday.

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Harden averaged 18.3 points per game, 12.5 assists per game and 7.8 rebounds per game against Oklahoma City.

Adams has to find a way to contribute while he's on the court against a Rockets side who will go small at the drop of a hat.

"Just stay solid, stick to the game plan and it'll work out", Adams continued. Should Los Angeles not win the series - and maybe at least one after it - count on more questions about whether it's time to break up the core of Chris Paul and Blake Griffin.

It's too bad he doesn't have the wins to go with the performance. If he slips at all, they slip.

This team is in some ways still in its building stage, perhaps ahead of schedule for where even the franchise expected, and has to show it's ready to take the leap after not winning a playoff series since 2012.

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