The Oklahoma City Thunder preached defense in leading up to the Western Conference quarterfinals. They hope it works against the fast- paced Houston Rockets when the two teams clash Sunday night in Game 1.
The Thunder earned the No. 1 seed in the West, fending off the pesky San Antonio Spurs, and will open defense of last year's conference championship in their fourth straight postseason appearance.
Oklahoma City coach Scott Brooks was asked what transition defense means.
"It's run back as quickly as you can and match up," Brooks explained. "We have a philosophy we want to make sure that they (Rockets) get no open shots."
Brooks said it was important to have five guys in front of Houston's five guys in order to avoid 4-on-3 or 5-on-4 disadvantages because the Rockets thrive on getting ahead in transition. The Thunder allowed 96.5 ppg, while the Rockets were second in the league with 106.0 ppg. Denver was first with 106.1.
The Thunder were once again led by the dangerous duo of Kevin Durant and Russell Westbrook. Durant was second in the NBA and first on the Thunder with 28.1 ppg and Westbrook followed with 23.2 ppg. Top reserve Kevin Martin was third on OKC with 14.0 ppg.
Oklahoma City is a strong team in front of the home crowd, going 34-7 as the host in the regular season, and lost in five games to the Miami Heat in the NBA Finals.
Houston grabbed the eighth and final playoff berth in the conference to end a three-year postseason drought.
Perhaps the biggest reason why the Rockets were able to post their first playoff berth since 2008-09 was because of All-Star guard James Harden. The former fan favorite of the Thunder was dealt to the Rockets prior to the start of the season and finished fifth in the NBA with 25.9 ppg.
Harden is prepared to face some friends on the Thunder.
"It comes with the package," Harden said. "I have to do a good job of handling it well, and making sure I'm doing the right things. Obviously I'm new to this, so I might make some mistakes, but I just have to continue to work at it."
The bearded left-hander can't afford to make too many mistakes, but on the contrary he has five other teammates who averaged more than 10 points this season. Chandler Parsons (15.5 ppg), Jeremy Lin (13.4 ppg), Patrick Patterson (11.6 ppg), Carlos Delfino (10.6) and Omer Asik (10.1) have all hit the 10- plus point mark. No wonder they're averaging more than 100 ppg.
Houston and Oklahoma City will meet for the seventh time in the postseason with the Sonics/Thunder owning a 5-1 edge in the series. The Thunder, of course, moved from Seattle years ago.