The Oklahoma City Thunder and the Houston Rockets are all set to kick off their highly-explosive and entertaining first-round playoff series on Sunday at Toyota Center in Houston, Texas.

What’s at stake?

The Thunder managed to secure a postseason berth in the first year without former franchise player Kevin Durant. This achievement won’t be possible without the inhuman effort of Russell Westbrook, who had to fill in the boxscores every single night in order to give the Thunder a chance of winning ballgames.

Oklahoma hopes to weaponize their triple-double machine in Westbrook (31.6 ppg, 10.4 apg and 10.7 rpg) and a plethora of big men (Steven Adams, Enes Kanter, Domantas Sabonis and Taj Gibson) against Houston’s high-octane offense led by another MVP contender James Harden.

The Rockets had a turn-around year without tweaking much of their defense. Under offensive guru Mike D’Antoni, Harden and company shot their way to an impressive 55-27 slate, good for the no.

3 seed in the Western Conference playoffs. Like Westbrook, the Beard also produced unprecedented numbers in his first year as a full-time point guard, averaging 29.1 points, 11.2 assists and 8.1 rebounds per contest.

Players to Watch:

Thunder: Westbrook will be the man for the OKC Thunder moving forward. With Kevin Durant no longer demanding shots, the MVP frontrunner is going to be runaway freight train for the entire series.

Moreover, his head-to-head showdown against another ex-Thunder teammate will be fascinating to watch. The biggest question now is will his do-it-all approach be enough to lead the Thunder to an upset over the favorite Rockets?

Rockets: Not to be outdone, Harden will try to create scoring opportunities for him and his teammates as much as he can. The Beard has become one of the premier point producers in the game, as he inflicts damage on the opposing team either as a scorer or facilitator.

Against Westbrook, Harden would have to assert his height and size advantage in an attempt to at least contain the dynamic superstar. He will also need much-needed firepower from Eric Gordon, Lou Williams, and Patrick Beverley to make sure the Rockets will come on top in this series.

Prediction:

It’s going to be fast-paced, entertaining series from start to finish. With the MVP award still hanging in the balance, this series provides an opportunity for Westbrook and Harden to show to everybody that they are NBA’s top cog this season.

And honestly, there’s no better way to prove it than leading their team to the second round of the playoffs. On the other hand, only one team will advance to the next round, and many NBA analysts believe the Rockets’ offensive juggernaut will be too much for Westbrook to handle in the series.

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