The Houston Rockets were looking pretty good after winning the first two games of their opening-round NBA Western Conference playoff series against the Oklahoma City Thunder. Then the Thunder came back and have won the last two. BetAnySports patrons who have followed OKC a little may be aware that they are a mentally-tough team. And all along there has been a dramatic angle because a former MVP has missed all the action.
Game 5 will take place on Wednesday at 6:30 PM ET, at the ESPN Wide World of Sports complex at Walt Disney World.
Whether Russell Westbrook will play at all seems to be a major question. Westbrook, who has a strained left quad, has been trying to work out, and coach Mike D’Antoni is ready to use him as soon as somebody gives him the go-ahead. It has been reported that Westbrook is going to miss Game 5, although if he played, it wouldn’t be the first time a team reversed field.
Without him, there has been additional pressure on James Harden, and for that matter, Eric Gordon (who has scored 19 ppg over the four games). Harden, who led the league in scoring, is averaging 32 points a game, which makes him look like a dominant player here. And to some extent, that is true. But he has put himself in foul trouble. And an undrafted rookie, from the same alma mater, has humbled him a little.
We can’t even begin to explain how huge that’s been. And we’ll explain in a minute.
In the NBA betting odds that have been posted on this game by the people at BetAnySports, the Rockets are laying points:
Houston Rockets -3.5
Oklahoma City Thunder +3.5
Over 224.5 points -110
Under 224.5 points -110
Houston is currently -175 to win the series, with Oklahoma City at +155.
There is a contrast in styles, in the respect that while the Rockets enjoy setting a brisk pace (2nd in possessions per 48 minutes), shoot a lot of threes and like to get the ball out in transition, the Thunder likes to play very deliberately, and do it in the half-court setting (fewer fast-break points than ANYBODY in the NBA) and they do not rely on triples very much at all.
There is also another rather noticeable difference. Both of these teams employ rather “smallish” lineups. But while Houston, by design, does not have anything resembling a traditional “center” in the middle, using 6-7 Robert Covington in that capacity, OKC has a three-guard lineup, with a shooter (Danilo Galinari) in the “power forward” slot, but a real bruiser in the pivot (Steven Adams) with a shot-blocker (Nerlens Noel) to give him a breather.
In other words, they can get out to the perimeter, but at the same time they are able to use some muscle against an opponent like this. And when you can hold a team like Houston to just even fast-break points, you’re really accomplishing something.
And it has been somebody relatively unknown who has been quite the difference-maker for the Thunder as they have been able to even this series up.
Lu Dort, who left Arizona State after just one season before joining the Thunder, has encountered Harden before in off-season workouts and pickup games in Tempe. So maybe both players knew what they might be in for. But we can guarantee you that Harden is the guy who’s been surprised more, as he has shot just 24% from the field when Dort has been guarding him.
Listen – OKC came back 16 times to win after trailing going into the fourth quarter. That was two off the record in the shot-clock era. And they have covered 29 times in 42 attempts as an underdog. With momentum swinging their way; with a real “pest” for Harden to contend with, and the prospect of Westbrook not being 100% even in the unlikely event he can play, we like the THUNDER getting points.
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