Houston Rockets vs. Oklahoma City Thunder: Projecting Top Performers in Game 1

Matt FitzgeraldCorrespondent IIIApril 20, 2013

HOUSTON, TX - FEBRUARY 20:  James Harden #13 of the Houston Rockets drives to the basket against Serge Ibaka #9 of the Oklahoma City Thunder at Toyota Center on February 20, 2013 in Houston, Texas. NOTE TO USER: User expressly acknowledges and agrees that, by downloading and or using this photograph, User is consenting to the terms and conditions of the Getty Images License Agreement.  (Photo by Scott Halleran/Getty Images)
Scott Halleran/Getty Images

When the Oklahoma City Thunder take on the Houston Rockets in Game 1 of an opening-round Western Conference clash on Sunday evening (9:30 p.m. ET, TNT), there will be plenty of star power on display.

OKC's dynamic duo of Kevin Durant and Russell Westbrook is as formidable a combination as there is in pro basketball. Meanwhile, Rockets star guard James Harden looks to make a strong impression in his first postseason game against his former team.

Harden is now the face of Houston's franchise and is the driving force behind the Association's No. 2 scoring offense.

Here are some predictions as to what type of numbers these All-Stars will put up in Chesapeake Energy Arena.


Kevin Durant, SF, Oklahoma City Thunder

The Durantula fell just short of notching his fourth consecutive NBA scoring title, but he is playing the best and most efficient all-around basketball of his young career.

Durant hit the coveted 50-40-90 shooting mark and set a career high with 4.6 assists per contest this season; only Harden made it to the charity stripe more than he did.

With his outstanding length at the 3, he will have an innate advantage over the Rockets' Chandler Parsons. He should have no issues getting his shot up, especially with Westbrook being able to consistently take Rockets guard Jeremy Lin off the dribble and dish it to the prolific scorer.

Houston is one of the worst defensive teams in the NBA, and Durant averaged 26.3 points in three games against the Rockets this season. That's slightly below his average of 28.1, but he also notched an average of 5.7 assists in those games.

It's the playoffs, so Durant should assert himself more as a scorer. Having said that, he should be able to find Westbrook working off the ball and hit Serge Ibaka with dimes thanks to the power forward's vastly improved jumper.

Projected numbers: 30 points, eight rebounds, six assists and two steals


James Harden, SG, Houston Rockets

The ex-Thunder sixth man didn't average fewer assists against any opponent the Rockets played multiple times than OKC. Defensive specialist Thabo Sefolosha will be tasked with marking Harden, whose length is sure to bother him.

As hinted at before, though, Harden refuses to be denied when he attacks the rim—no matter who is in his way. He picks up calls in the paint, too, and is an exceptional 85 percent free-throw shooter.

Considering his backcourt teammate, Lin, has a difficult matchup with Westbrook, Harden should dominate the ball in isolation situations more than usual.

Harden has a little something extra from beyond the arc when playing the Thunder, though, hitting 55 percent of his shots from deep on nearly seven attempts per game.

Expect shooting somewhere in the neighborhood of 35 to 40 percent in the opening game, but Harden should have freebie attempts in the double digits, which will allow him to be the team's leading scorer.

Projected numbers: 32 points, five rebounds, three assists and three steals


Russell Westbrook, PG, Oklahoma City Thunder

This is a favorable matchup for Westbrook, as he should be able to get to the bucket with relative ease.

The question is whether he will fall into the consistent trap of shooting too many outside shots. Doing that won't be necessary against the soft defense of the Rockets, but it is a tendency for Westbrook—especially when the stakes are high.

Only against the undersized Miami Heat did Westbrook average more rebounds per game, and that should be the case here, since Houston only has Omer Asik and Greg Smith as strong rebounders on the inside.

That duo will be battling with Ibaka and Kendrick Perkins, which should allow Westbrook to fly in and crash the boards effectively.

Westbrook shoots five percentage points better at home and 17 points better from three-point land, which only helps his cause. His lateral quickness and ability to flash into passing lanes should also net him a significant number of steals to energize the raucous home crowd.

Look for all those factors to add up to a triple-double for Westbrook in Game 1.

Projected numbers: 20 points, 10 rebounds, 12 assists and five steals