Three things to watch for: Oklahoma City Thunder vs. Houston Rockets

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1. MVP vs. MVP
No matter how you slice it, this series is going to come down to Russell Westbrook vs. James Harden. We’re going to argue about who is the real MVP until long after this season is over. Perhaps this head-to-head matchup in the playoffs will give us some reprieve?

That’s unlikely, however, because smart money has the Rockets coming away with this one. Westbrook is going to have to do it all for the Thunder, while Harden is going to do what he does: distribute and help Houston hoist approximately 4,928 3-pointers. We’re going to get more than a couple of moments with them 1-on-1, which I hope are not the highlights of the series.

2. Oklahoma City vs. the fastbreak
The Rockets are a top offensive team built on getting out in transition. There’s even a video of Harden’s passing that shows him getting the ball out of his hands near the free-throw line in order to start the break for his team. It’s ridiculous that you have to guard Harden when the ball falls off the rim to him on defensive boards, but that’s exactly what OKC is going to have to do here.

The Thunder is an OK offensive team that is good on points per possession against the fastbreak. The Rockets are one of the best teams in the NBA at running, and stopping the transition game will be an overarching theme for Billy Donovan if he has any hope of pulling the upset against the No. 3 seed.

3. Victor Oladipo and Enes Kanter on offense
Oladipo is a preferred running mate for Westbrook, and for good reason. The fourth-year guard, when healthy, was one of the best players for the Thunder this year. Oladipo was both a receiver of Westbrook’s passes and an instigator on offense. He shot nearly 61 percent at the rim this year, and that’s in large part because of his ability to cut off of Westbrook’s passes and penetrate on his own. The Thunder are going to need that in a big way, since the Rockets are going to score a boatload of points.

Kanter is another asset for the Thunder that has to contribute, particularly when it comes to drawing fouls on Houston’s big men. Kanter has a free-throw rate of .387 this season, which is better than a lot of guards. If he can get Clint Capela and Ryan Anderson to spend more time on the bench, that might help slow the Rockets attack. He’ll also need to rebound on the offensive glass, as the Thunder are not a particularly adept offensive basketball team.

Rockets’ Clint Capela on Warriors: ‘I expect to beat them’

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During the 2014-15 season, Rockets star James Harden said the Warriors “ain’t even that good.”

Golden State went on to reach the last three NBA Finals, twice beating Houston in the playoffs, and win two championships.

The Rockets have since re-tooled around Harden, Chris Paul and several quality role players and are in first place. Houston looks like the biggest threat to the Warriors in the Western Conference.

Rockets center Clint Capela on the Warriors, via Dave Schilling of Bleacher Report:

“I expect to beat them,” Capela says.

That’s a fine sentiment. Saying it publicly is another matter. Not even Harden did that a couple years ago. He was recorded during a pregame team huddle.

There’s a fine line between self-fulfilling confidence and providing bulletin-board material to the opponent. There’s already some animosity between the teams stemming from the Stephen Curry-Harden MVP race in 2015, and it has bubbled since. No matter how harmless Capela’s remark might have been intended to be, it’ll be met contentiously in the Bay Area.

PBT Extra Player of the Week: Victor Oladipo

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Oklahoma City traded for Victor Oladipo out of Orlando to be their third scorer, behind Kevin Durant and Russell Westbrook. It didn’t exactly work out that way, Durant bolted town and when Westbrook went off Oladipo was looking for a place to fit in.

That place turned out to be the Pacers.

Oladipo has been playing like an All-Star this season with Indiana, and last week he was key in snapping Cleveland’s 13 game win streak, then turned around and dropped 47 points on Denver. For the week he averaged 35.7 points a game, shot 45.7 percent from three, plus grabbed 7.7 rebounds per game.

That will get you named the PBT Extra Player of the Week.

Watch Pacers fan boo Paul George during introductions (video)


Paul George – who told the Pacers he’d leave in free agency, prompting them to trade him to the Thunder – expected boos in his return to Indiana.

Pacers fans delivered.

They’ve also booed him every time he has touched the ball, which will certainly persist.

John Wall returns for Wizards-Grizzlies

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WASHINGTON (AP) — Point guard John Wall was in the Washington Wizards’ lineup Wednesday night against the Memphis Grizzlies after missing nine games with a sore left knee.

Coach Scott Brooks said Wall would play in the mid-20-minute range, perhaps a bit more.

The Wizards (14-13), currently in first place in the Southeast Division, went 4-5 in Wall’s absence.

“He such a force offensively,” Brooks said of Wall. “He’s a two-way player and he’s one of the few guys in the league that can find open 3-point shooters going 100 miles an hour in transition.”

Wall, 27, is averaging 20.3 points and 9.2 assists per game.