Found April 19, 2013 on Fox Sports Southwest:
OKLAHOMA CITY You had to know this was going to happen. You just knew James Harden was going to come back at some point and at some point it was going to really matter. And now the Thunder are in a no-win situation while Harden is poised for the ultimate "I told you so" moment. Five days before the season started, the Thunder traded the popular Harden to Houston and now we're two days before the teams tip-off in the first round of the playoffs in Oklahoma City. We meet again. If you didn't think this was going to happen, you're an optimist. If you think this is series anything other than Harden vs. Oklahoma City, you're mistaken. This is a stand-off and is as big as it gets for April in the NBA. The Thunder may say they are distancing themselves from a grudge match against their former teammate, but we know better than that. It's only natural to want to one-up a former solider. It only makes sense to say to him, "Here's what you left behind." And it only makes sense for Harden to show how broad his shoulders really are. How he really is the max-contract player Houston paid him to be while the Thunder said he wasn't. Good enough to carry a team to the playoffs for the first time in three seasons and score his way to becoming one the NBA's elite. Just a perfect opportunity for Harden and a losing proposition for the Thunder. Not that he hasn't already had his chances. Harden pressed and pressed and pressed this season in three games against Oklahoma City, going 3-of-16 in the first game and 6-of-17 in the next - both Houston losses but he hit on the third, going 14-of-19 and scoring 46 points in a win in the third and final regular-season meeting this season. He goes for 40-plus again and the Rockets very well win, but so does Harden. After all, Houston is just the No. 8 seed. The Rockets aren't supposed to do much against Oklahoma City, which frees Harden up to do anything he wants. A good game and it proves he just needed more help. A bad game and it proves nothing other than the Thunder were the superior team from the beginning. Houston doesn't defend particularly well and barely got in front of the Thunder in the three games this season. Expect more of the same like Russell Westbrook having little trouble going to the basket and Kevin Durant to scoring as much as he wants. And expect all the talk to be about Harden. He averaged 25.9 points this season but will carry the burden of carrying his team. That will likely manifest itself with Harden taken more and more shots. He's going to feel like he needs to shoot. Needs to prove himself. And possibly it's catching up already. Harden has shot 50 percent or better from the field in just one game in April and only three times in March. He averaged just 39 percent from the field in April and 38.9 in March. He didn't shoot below 40 percent in any month before that. Harden has to get hot for the Rockets to win. While it's unlikely he does it for four games and ousts the Thunder, it's the worst fear for OKC executives who have to be bracing for a public relations hit if he does. Harden is certainly capable. He's done it before. Expect the Thunder do everything possible to stop it. Follow Andrew Gilman on Twitter @theandrewgilman
THE BACKYARD
BEST OF MAXIM
RELATED ARTICLES

Harden ready to face former team in playoffs

OKLAHOMA CITY You had to know this was going to happen. You just knew James Harden was going to come back at some point, and at some point it was going to really matter. And now the Thunder are in a no-win situation, while Harden is poised for the ultimate "I told you so" moment. Five days before the season started, the Thunder traded the popular Harden to Houston,...

Can Harden impact Thunder series?

The favorite to take home the Larry O'Brien Trophy sits comfortably in an Eastern Conference lacking few, if any, real challengers. But while the Miami Heat begins defense of its title with a series of not-so-intriguing first- and potential second-round playoff match-ups, the Western Conference is riddled with compelling games and storylines. The West may not have the presumptive...

Thunder out to prove they're better without Harden

(Eds: APNewsNow. Will be updated. With AP Photos.) By JEFF LATZKE AP Sports Writer The Oklahoma City Thunder have faced questions all season on whether they'd be able to succeed after trading James Harden away during training camp. Harden blossomed in Houston, becoming an All-Star and the NBA's fifth-leading scorer in his first opportunity to be a franchise's featured...

Toronto Raptors Turned Down Offer For James Harden

The Toronto Raptors apperantly really wanted to keep Jonas Valanciunas in town.credit: cbc.ca When the Oklahoma City Thunder traded shooting guard James Harden to the Houston Rockets prior to the season, there was a lot of speculation surrounding where else Harden could have ended up. Due to salary restrictions and already having Kevin Durant, Russell Westbrook, and Serge Ibaka locked...

Harden changes everything for young Rockets

(Eds: APNewsNow.) By CHRIS DUNCAN AP Sports Writer Jeremy Lin looked around on the first day of the Houston Rockets' training camp with more hope than expectation. James Harden arrived three weeks later and everything changed. The Rockets are back in the playoffs for the first time since the 2008-09 season. Houston will face Oklahoma City, Harden's former team, in the first...

Playoffs bring The Beard back to Oklahoma City

The Beard is back. After getting traded to Houston at the end of training camp, James Harden had a feeling he might be meeting up with his former Oklahoma City Thunder teammates when the NBA playoffs rolled around. Sure enough, his Rockets will open the postseason Sunday night at Oklahoma City. Harden spent his first few years in the league building friendships with Kevin Durant...

NBA first round playoff predictions

The NBA playoffs kickoff on Saturday, April 20 and yes, the Los Angeles Lakers squeezed in at the final hour. Let’s run down a list of predictions for each series that is about to take place. (1) Oklahoma City Thunder vs. (8) Houston Rockets This is the part of the show where we discuss the possibility of the Rockets’ James Harden making the Thunder pay for trading him away...

Storylines to watch in the Western Conference first round

The NBA postseason kicks off on Saturday. If you are like me, you are really looking forward to watching the Western Conference playoffs unfold. The talented teams run 1-8, and we are in for some pretty intense battles, even in the first round. Heading into the weekend, there’s a few interesting storylines to keep an eye on. 1. James Harden returns to OKC The Houston Rockets...

NBA Western Conference Playoffs: First Round Preview

NBA Western Conference Playoff preview: Oklahoma City Thunder vs. the Houston Rockets: It will be a nice storyline to see James Harden go up against his former team in the first round of the NBA Playoffs. He better say hi and bye quickly because this series won’t last too long. The Thunder took 2 of 3 from Houston this year and won those games by a combined 52 points. Russell Westbrook...

Oklahoma City Thunder and Houston Rockets 1st Round Playoff Preview

This series between the Oklahoma City Thunder and Houston Rockets is the most exciting 1st round playoff series, for 2 very different reasons. The 1st reason is obvious, it is Rockets’ superstar James Harden facing the team that traded him less than a year ago and 2nd, this game features the 2 of the 3 highest scoring offenses in the NBA. This will be a high flying series, that...

5 things to watch in the NBA's first round

Five things to watch in the first round of the NBA playoffs, which begin Saturday: GAME 3 IN BOSTON: April 26, 8 p.m., Knicks at Celtics. You won't want to be one second late for the start of that telecast on ESPN, because if the scene at the first Bruins game since the Boston Marathon explosions was any indicator, then the emotions that pour out from the stands in the Celtics...
NBA News
Delivered to your inbox
You'll also receive Yardbarker's daily Top 10, featuring the best sports stories from around the web. Customize your newsletter to get articles on your favorite sports and teams. And the best part? It's free!

Today's Best Stuff
For Bloggers

Join the Yardbarker Network for more promotion, traffic, and money.

Company Info
Help
What is Yardbarker?

Yardbarker is the largest network of sports blogs and pro athlete blogs on the web. This site is the hub of the Yardbarker Network, where our editors and algorithms curate the best sports content from our network and beyond.