With the Golden State Warriors being -20000 favorites at Bovada Sportsbook for their first round series against Portland and the San Antonio Spurs being listed as -1000 it appears the most intriguing Western Conference matchup is Oklahoma City against Houston. With the success of both Golden State and San Antonio this season, Houston kind of got overlooked as a sneaky good team.
But of course, this series isn't really about the teams involved and instead more the individuals. Specifically, MVP front runners James Harden and Russell Westbrook lace up to decide which player is truly more valuable.
The Rockets will have home-court advantage in this #3/#6 matchup which is the key because they were 30-11 this season at the Toyota Center. Houston knew the importance of a solid regular season this year mostly as a way to avoid an early playoff matchup with Golden State, whom the Rockets bowed out to in the first round last year.
This, of course, is a very different OKC team than the ones who battled the Warriors to the brink in a 7-game Western Conference Finals series a year ago. Gone is Kevin Durant, but would it be a stretch to say the Thunder are more dangerous now with Russell Westbrook as the unquestionable triple-double Alpha Dog?
This series is one of the closest calls in the Western Conference with Houston set as -380 series favorites. You can look at that as a tremendous value for a #3 seed with 8 more regular season wins than their opponent – or you can see the number +320 for the Thunder as one of the safest underdog bets in the entire playoffs.
There could be a big psyche advantage working in Houston's favor as they've won the last 3 games against OKC. Then again, 2 of the games were decided by a combined 5 points but the most recent matchup was a 137-125 Rockets win – an indicator that this could be a high-scoring series.
In the end, this series comes down to unpredictability. There are set to be some amazing games with Harden and Westbrook surely being the consummate entertainers. In a long, gruelling playoff series such as this, however, it's hard to bank on Mike D'Antoni's fast-paced offense having staying power (lost in the 1st round the last 3 playoff appearances). When you combine unpredictability with value, the Thunder are the pick for this series.