Westbrook vs Harden the highlight when NBA playoffs open

Thunder guard Russell Westbrook and Rockets guard James Harden

Both teams have undergone impressive transformations in their own right but the end result will be one team moving on and the other moving on to a vacation. What are you looking for in the playoffs this year? Should Houston take care of business from deep, that alone may bury the lower-seeded team in this series. So what kind of schemes and ploys can D'Antoni throw the Thunder's way with a fairly thin frontline and suspect defensive two-guards? Some people want to award the player who had the single best regular season.

The series will pit Spanish brothers Pau Gasol (Spurs) and Marc Gasol (Grizzlies) against one another for the first time in the playoffs.

When prodded about what makes Westbrook so good, Harden provided some praise for the fellow point guard.

In one corner: Oklahoma City's Westbrook, who averaged the league's second ever triple-double with dizzying numbers of 31.6 points per game, 10.7 rebounds and 10.4 assists for the Thunder.

"I think that's the most important thing". Just five years ago, Westbrook, Harden and Durant were young guns on an Oklahoma City team that lost to Miami in the NBA Finals. It should also be fun to watch Andre Roberson taking on Harden...and Eric Gordon for that matter.

"Obviously he's talented, really explosive (and) athletic", Harden said.

Orchestrated by Mike D'Antoni, the Rockets surrounded Harden with some of the league's most lethal shooters after letting Dwight Howard walk in unrestricted free agency last summer. All season long, we've debated whether or not James Harden's offensive creation matters more than Russell Westbrook's triple-doubles. Taj Gibson has looked good in his 23 games for his new team while Domantas Sabonis and Jerami Grant showed promising signs late in the season but we all know that the Thunder's playoff hopes lay heavily on the capable shoulders of Westbrook. They caught up during All-Star Weekend, and Harden said he would send Westbrook a congratulatory text after he broke the triple-double record, but that's about as far as they'll go. The Thunder are not just a one-dimensional team but making the supporting cast beat you instead of their superstar point guard is certainly the way to go. Plus, he contests 6.6 shots per game (3.4 from behind the arc) and leads the league in loose balls recovered (1.6 per game). The Thunder are not one of them so getting up and down should pay off in a big way as these games progress.

While Russell Westbrook and James Harden appear to be the front-runners for the honor, we also saw tremendous campaigns from LeBron James and Kawhi Leonard, who most likely will finish in the top five in voting. With the aforementioned Anderson finally back in the swing of things after missing six games toward the end of the regular season, the Rockets' second-highest paid player could be a difference maker in Game 1. If the best players are being used more, they are going to have more opportunities to accumulate counting stats. They do have a big advantage down low and when it comes to rebounding the basketball and any hope of an upset could hinge on those two factors alone.

(3) Raptors vs. (6) Bucks: Many figured the Raptors would be the team to step up and come closest to challenging the Cavs' fait accompli run to the East title, but the Celtics went and leapfrogged both of them. On that night, we'll be able to become retroactively offended for one of the candidates in this series.

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