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NBA playoffs: Rockets move on and more

It was billed as the best series of the eight in the NBA conference quarterfinal matchups. The Oklahoma City Thunder and the Houston Rockets, two teams with little chance of even getting to the Western Conference finals, but both with MVP candidates on their squads.

James Harden and Russell Westbrook were going to do battle on the hardwood, with the winner getting a measure of enjoyment over the other’s former teammate. In the end, it was Harden and the Rockets who had no trouble at all with the Thunder, winning in five games. The final victory came on Tuesday night, with Houston taking care of business at home, 105-99.

The story of the series – other than Harden vs. Westbrook – was the lack of scoring in the fourth quarter for the Thunder. Oklahoma City blew leads in Games 1 and 4, and the problem reared its head again in Game 5. Oklahoma City went into the fourth quarter with a five-point lead, only to allow 33 points and see its season come to a close.

Tuesday’s affair was a microcosm of the entire matchup. Westbrook continued to put up his crazy numbers, scoring 47 points on 15-of-34 shooting. As the series went on, it became increasingly clear that Westbrook does not trust his teammates, firing shots at will. It’s hard to blame him, when Enes Kanter, who is being paid more than $17 million per year, is played all of three minutes in a do-or-die situation. Additionally, Victor Oladipo was 4-of-17 from the field, while nobody other than Westbrook scored more than 11 points.

If the Thunder are going to win anything moving forward, general manager Sam Presti needs to shake the roster up. Westbrook is a future first-ballot Hall of Famer, warts and all, but he can’t do it alone with this group.

On the other side, Harden moves into the second round with his Rockets to take on the winner of the Spurs and Grizzlies (San Antonio leads 3-2). The Beard was dominant in the clinching contest, scoring 34 points, with 16 of them coming from the free throw line. Harden had ample help, though, with Lou Williams scoring 22 points off the bench, along with Patrick Beverley’s 15.

The second round of the playoff picture is starting to come into focus. The Cleveland Cavaliers have already moved on in the East, waiting for the Toronto Raptors or Milwaukee Bucks (TOR leads 3-2). The other series remains a mystery, with the Boston Celtics and Chicago Bulls, and Washington Wizards and Atlanta Hawks each tied at two games apiece.

In the West, the Golden State Warriors took care of the Portland Trail Blazers in four games and await the winner of the Utah Jazz and Los Angeles Clippers (TIED 2-2).

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