The Beard and the Beast Duel in Houston

James Harden and Russell Westbrook were once the 2nd and 3rd options on the Oklahoma City Thunder. That seems like ages ago now, as they’ve managed to escape Kevin Durant’s shadow in a big way. Harden is doing something great in Houston, becoming the first PG to score, and assist on 2,000 points. Meanwhile, in Oklahoma, Westbrook looks to become only the 2nd player ever to average a triple-double. Both of these superstars have had career defining seasons, and last night they battled it out.

The Rockets clearly held the advantage in the match-up. They are second in the league in assists and points, as well as the league leaders in 3 point shooting. The Thunder on the other hand rank 12th offensively, and are nearly dead last in 3 point shooting. The only way to beat the Rockets is to outscore them, and the Thunder just don’t have the offensive power to do that.

Here’s a comparison of the teams (Thunder on top; Rockets on bottom):

Rockets vs Thunder
Basketball-reference

What most people had their eyes on though, was the battle at the PG position. The former teammates, who once played in the 2012 NBA finals together, now leading their teams to the playoffs. Russell Westbrook leads the league in scoring, and James Harden is second; James Harden leads the league in assists, and Russell Westbrook is third. Safe to say, they’ve both been playing phenomenal basketball.

Last night was their 3rd and final meeting of the regular season, the rockets winning 137-125, although the game wasn’t nearly as close as the final score would indicate. Harden and the Rockets were in cruise control for the whole game, leading effortlessly while Russell, and the Thunder fought for their lives.

harden vs westbrook
Russell Westbrook clearly outperformed Harden, but Harden played much more efficient basketball with a +/- of 11. For Harden it will most likely be the final dagger into Russell’s MVP hopes, as the Rockets spot as the 3rd seed is all but locked, while the Thunder have the Grizzlies right on their tails for that 6th spot.

While Russell has put up one of the greatest seasons of all-time, so has Harden, and he’s done it with a supporting cast that isn’t nearly as strong as the other top teams in the West. Both players have been incredible which is why it’s unfortunate that only one can win an MVP,  but it looks like Harden’s trophy is more or less secured.

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