James Harden, Serge Ibaka

Sometimes, fate plays different tricks on people. And so, James Harden, who played with the Oklahoma City Thunder during his first three seasons in the NBA, gets to meet the team that traded him to the Houston Rockets with a chance to cause a huge first round upset in the playoffs, but only if he forgets about his own ego and starts sharing the ball with his quite capable teammates.

Even if Harden does stop shooting the ball and doing what he likes on the basketball court, the chances are slim. The Oklahoma City Thunder have the best margin of victory in the NBA, with the second best offensive efficiency in the NBA. They beat the Rockets twice this season by more than 20 points before losing to an incredible effort by Harden in late February, scoring 46 points (and 29 by Jeremy Lin) on 7-8 from beyond the arc as Russell Westbrook and Kevin Durant both had awful game, with 12 turnovers, which doesn’t happen too often.

And that’s the problem for the Rockets – they need to play something close to perfect offense and the kind of defense they don’t usually have in them (17th in the NBA in defensive efficiency) in order to beat the Thunder.

It’ll take Omer Asik to stay put in the paint and not be drawn out or beaten to the hoop by Serge Ibaka. It’ll take Jeremy Lin to get help at the right moments from James Harden in trapping Russell Westbrook and use his quick hands to make up for his bad man-to-man defensive skills. It’ll take someone to somehow stay close to Kevin Durant, or at least make life difficult for them. And it’ll take playing at a hectic pace for quite a few games without some rest, while Kevin McHale, not the best head coach in the NBA, starts actually coaching instead of letting James Harden does as he wishes.

On the other end, it’s pretty simple. Despite the easy to criticize things the Thunder have – sometimes lazy on defense, giving Perkins and Ibaka too much to do on their won, while Russell Westbrook forgets about his actual role on the court, the Thunder are the much better, more talented team. They’re as good as they were last season, and it’ll take a rare effort from the Rockets to turn this one around.

Predictions – Thunder in 6.