This game has some serious implications, even if they aren’t actually that important to the Rockets’ season.
Firstly, the Rockets could absolutely run into the Thunder in the first round. A win today gives the Rockets a 3-1 series win and finalizes Toyota Center as a real home court advantage in a possible first round series. Players say that regular season matchups don’t matter, but psychologically that series record has to be in everyone’s minds.
Secondly, this game could further cement Houston’s status as the 3 seed, which would allow them to start resting rotation players. Or in the case of Harden, start dialing back his minutes a little.
No, you probably care about this game for its MVP implications. And so here’s how I see the four possibilities adding to the narrative:
Russell Westbrook has better stats and Thunder win: Rockets fans will say “Clearly Westbrook’s teammates aren’t terrible so Harden is MVP” and OKC fans will say “OKC is just as good as Houston with a 2-2 series record so Russ should be MVP because of his stats.”
Russell Westbrook has better stats but Rockets win: Rockets fans will say “Look Harden just wins so he’s MVP” and OKC fans will say “Russ is carrying a bad team and Harden is surrounded by pseudo-All-Stars so Russ deserves MVP.”
James Harden has better stats but Thunder win: Rockets fans will say “Look Harden’s teammates suck and he’s carried them to the 3 seed he has to be the MVP” and OKC fans will say “Look Russ just wins important games he should be MVP.”
James Harden has better stats and Rockets win: Rockets fans won’t say anything other than “Scoreboard” and OKC fans will say “Damn I wish Russ had great players around him to help him win.”
Point being: nothing will change from this game even though ESPN/ABC will try desperately to turn this into a make-or-break game for both guys’ MVP cases.
Tip-off is at 2:30pm CT on ABC.