James Harden and Rockets Must Beat Chris Paul and Thunder in NBA Playoffs: Unchecked

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Update: This was written before the news on Russell Westbrook's injury status. Obviously Westbrook missing a portion of the playoffs changes the tenor of the series some. 

James Harden, Russell Westbrook and the Houston Rockets need to beat Chris Paul and the Oklahoma City Thunder. The state of the franchise as we know it kind of depends on it.

If you think about it, every major figure associated with the team has a stake in this series.

First, there’s James Harden, who is an absolutely brilliant player, but the knock on him, fair or not, is how he performs in the postseason.

If he loses to Paul, after the two apparently feuded, and when the Rockets with CP3 were at one point perhaps just a hamstring away from the NBA Finals, the media will be all over him and he won’t even be able to draw a foul. 

Then there’s Russell Westbrook, who Paul was traded for. While his triple-double seasons are historic, his recent history is never getting out of the first round without Kevin Durant, complete with being waved bye to a season ago. I’m sure that’s a stat Russ doesn’t want to continue to compile (assuming he is healthy enough to go). 

Next is Mike D’Antoni, who is coaching on the final year of his deal and though he deserves credit for being ahead of the curve when it comes to the way the game is played today, for a coach who notably doesn't have a championship, being eliminated in seven games or less wouldn’t be a good look. 

And finally, there’s general manager Daryl Morey, who both traded for Paul and then traded assets away to swap him for Westbrook before going all in with D’Antoni on small ball. I don’t know what the analytics will say if his squad loses to the Thunder, but I know what the analysts will.

So overall, when the Rockets three point heavy attack meets CP3 and OKC, Houston is facing not only a tough first round series, but a referendum on the entire team as well.