On Saturday night, two of the most dynamic offensive threats will collide as Russell Westbrook and the Oklahoma City Thunder (45-34) travel to face James Harden and the Houston Rockets (64-15) at the Toyota Center with an 8:30 PM ET tipoff.
With the playoffs rapidly approaching, every game at this point can be a crucial one for teams as they jockey for playoff positioning, or even to make the playoffs at all. The Oklahoma City Thunder find themselves in the position of fighting for their playoff lives. In the Western Conference, only four games separate the fourth seed and the tenth seed, and currently, the Thunder find themselves right in the thick of it as they are the number six seed.
While only one win would ensure a trip to the playoffs, losing out could mean an early end to their season. With that in mind, Saturday’s game against the Houston Rockets will be a pivotal one as they look to lock down a playoff spot as soon as possible.
For the Rockets, on the other hand, they are in the enviable position of having secured the number one seed in the West, as they currently sit seven games ahead of the number two seed Golden State Warriors. This could give the Rockets the opportunity to rest some of their stars prior to the start of the playoffs, which could leave an opening for the Thunder. The spread comes in at Oklahoma City Thunder +6.5 and the Houston Rockets -6.5. The over/under for total points scored is set at 218.5.
Russell Westbrook Looking for a Playoff Berth and History
Russell Westbrook is having a historically good season. To date, he is averaging 25.6 points, 9.9 rebounds and 10.1 assists per game. If he can average 13 rebounds over the last three games, he will have averaged a triple-double for the entire season.
Despite such a strong season, the Thunder have actually been slumping as of late, having lost five of their last seven games. While the triple-double season for Westbrook would be nice, the Thunder really need to try to find some consistency as they roll into the playoffs. Along with Westbrook, the Thunder will lean heavily on their other two superstars in Paul George (21.6 points, 5.7 rebounds and 3.4 assists per game) and Carmelo Anthony (16.2 points, 5.9 rebounds and 1.3 assists per game).
Rockets Have Taken the West by Storm
At this time last year, no one would have thought that another team in the West would have been able to dethrone the Golden State Warriors; however, a MVP caliber season from James Harden has done exactly that. James Harden has absolutely been the best player in the league over the course of the entire season. He is averaging 30.6 points, 5.4 rebounds and 8.7 assists per game to go along with shooting 45% from the field and 85.9% from the charity stripe.
While Harden’s MVP caliber season has lifted the team, the real reason to their dominance of the West might be how well Harden and the offseason acquisition of Chris Paul have meshed throughout the season. While some did not think they could coexist when Paul was acquired, that could not have been further from the truth. The record speaks for itself, as does Chris Paul’s solid season where he has averaged 18.6 points, 5.5 rebounds and 7.9 assists per game. Other major contributors to the Rockets have included Eric Gordon (18.2 points per game) and Clint Capela (14 points, 10.9 rebounds per game).
Oklahoma City Tops Houston
If both teams were playing at full strength, I would easily choose the Rockets; however, with the West already wrapped up, I envision the Rockets resting their regulars. This may come in the form of completely holding out some starters or simply reducing their minutes. Either way, with the Thunder having something to play for and the Rockets really not, my pick is the Thunder +6.5.
If betting the over/under on total points, I am going with the over. Even if the Rockets do hold out some of their starters, there is just too much firepower on both sides for me to see a scenario where they stay under the 218.5. Take the over.