The series between the Oklahoma City Thunder and Houston Rockets is set to get underway on Saturday in OKC, and the experts don't exactly love the chances the Rockets have against the West's best team.
Then again, neither should you.
The Rockets are not a bad team by any stretch of the imagination, but there are several reasons why they're the No. 8 seed in the West. Their defense has lagged behind their top-ranked offense all season long, and it'll likely be their downfall in the end.
Throw in their inexperience in the playoffs and you've got yourself a recipe for disaster.
Experts Lee Jenkins, Randy Harvey and Dick Vitale all have given their own insights into the series. Don't trust my analysis? You can most certainly trust theirs.
Lee Jenkins, SI.com's NBA Insider
For Jenkins' full predictions, click here.
Lee Jenkins gives a great in-depth look at the series from the perspective of each team's strengths and weaknesses. While citing that this series will certainly be exciting, Jenkins also makes fans aware that the series likely won't be the most competitive.
I personally love Jenkins' analysis. He predicts that the Thunder will win in five games, but gives a great reason as to why. He compares this Houston team to the Thunder team of three years ago—an inexperienced team that needed its first run in the playoffs to grow as a squad.
Jenkins believes that Kevin Durant and Russell Westbrook have both grown in the absence of James Harden and play less one-on-one basketball than they had in previous years. This one-on-one style of basketball is exactly what the Rockets play with Harden, and I believe it'll be their downfall.
The experience of the Thunder, coupled with their team-first style of play, gives them the advantage over the Rockets. After losing in the NBA Finals last season to the Miami Heat, Oklahoma City is determined to give it another go. Losing to Houston is not an option for the talented Thunder.
All of Jenkins' analysis is spot on, in my opinion. Thunder in five seems like a smart pick, though I would also advise not getting too surprised if the Rockets sneak an extra win in there. With an offense that potent, you can never discount them.
Randy Harvey, Houston Chronicle Sports
For Harvey's full predictions, click here.
Randy Harvey gives an upfront perspective on the Rockets' playoff hopes. His views can be summed up by this simple thought: "For those among the 60 percent who will have rare opportunities within the next week to watch the Rockets on television, here is my advice: Don't."
Instead of focusing on Houston's inexperience like Jenkins did early on in his analysis, Harvey gets straight to the nitty-gritty. He believes that the two teams are very similar offensively. The difference between the two teams is the defense that the Thunder play and the lack of defense that the Rockets play.
I happen to agree with Harvey's points. The easiest way for me to explain why is to take a look at the numbers. During the regular season, OKC allowed just 96.5 points per game (10th best in the NBA). Houston allowed 102.5 points per game (third worst in the NBA).
While both teams love to run and score easy transition baskets, Houston's lackluster defense will lead to even more opportunities for easy points. Throw in the fact that Houston's high turnover rate (NBA-leading 15.8 per game during the regular season) will lead to even more easy points, and the Thunder are pretty much set up offensively. Oklahoma City could very well average over 110 points per game in this series.
While not as blunt and hopeless as Harvey, I really don't think Houston has much of a chance in this one.
Dick Vitale, ESPN.com
For Vitale's full predictions, click here.
In the land of expert analysis, Dick Vitale's predictions for the upcoming series are as vague as humanly possible: "Rockets star James Harden would love to beat his former team, but it will not happen."
That's it. That's literally Vitale's entire take on the first-round series between the Rockets and Thunder. Even still, I can't help but agree with Vitale's short (yet reasonable) analysis.
Vitale is 100 percent correct in saying that Harden wants nothing more than to beat his former team during this series. The Thunder traded him away after learning that he wouldn't accept their contract offer, and he's out to prove that he's worth much more than what they offered.
Harden will be motivated this series. He'll try to put the Rockets on his back to propel them to the next round. That's just the problem, though. Putting the team on his back would require Harden to be much more efficient than he has been in March and April. Through 21 games over the past two months, he's shot just 39 percent from the field and 32.8 percent from three.
He may press to score a higher volume in this series. The one-on-one style of basketball that he and coach Kevin McHale implement has been detrimental to the success of the team recently. Harden routinely holds the ball for 15-plus seconds per possession waiting for an opening to drive. When he doesn't find a hole, he dishes the ball out to the perimeter and puts his teammates in a tough position to score.
With less than nine seconds to work with, his teammates are forced to jack up tough shots that more often than not are off target. If Harden continues to do this, then the Rockets stand no chance.
My own predictions for this series aren't far off from what the experts are predicting will happen—that's likely because the outcome of this series seems so obvious that it wouldn't be wise to pick against what's right in front of us. The Thunder are scary good. The Rockets are almost good.
Who wins the series?
Houston is good enough to be a playoff team at this point, but it has entirely too many flaws to move past Oklahoma City. The Rockets defense is subpar to say the least. Their lack of team basketball is not conducive to winning. Their lack of inexperience is exactly what hurt the Thunder in the finals last season.
The Thunder have the obvious advantages across the board in this series. I think the Rockets will take one game because of their offensive firepower, but there's no way they force any more than a Game 6.
Prediction: OKC wins in 5