Westbrook, Harden Renew MVP & Triple-Double Duel Against One Another

Matthew Jordan

Thursday, January 5, 2017 12:51 AM UTC

Thursday, Jan. 5, 2017 12:51 AM UTC

Easily the marquee game Thursday in the NBA is when Oklahoma City visits Houston in a TNT national TV affair. It's the third of four regular-season meetings between MVP betting favorites and triple-double machines Russell Westbrook and James Harden. Buckle your seat belts!

It's still hard to fathom that Russell Westbrook and James Harden once shared the same Oklahoma City backcourt and that Kevin Durant was also on that club. Can you imagine what a super-team that would be? Might put the Warriors and Cavaliers to shame.

It's now pretty evident that either Westbrook or Harden is going to win his first NBA MVP Award barring major injury. Westbrook is the -160 favorite on NBA odds at SBR Forum's top sportsbooks with Harden at +200. I'd argue that Harden should be favored because his Houston team is the third-best in the Western Conference right now and outperforming expectations under first-year coach Mike D'Antoni.

Entering this one, Harden is first in the NBA in assists (11.9 apg) and fourth in scoring (28.4 ppg). He has nine triple-doubles and is working on a string of three in a row. He had one of the greatest statistical lines in NBA history Saturday in a win over the Knicks with 53 points, 17 assists and 16 rebounds. He became the first player ever to have at least 50 points, 15 rebounds and 15 assists in an NBA game. The 53 points tied Wilt Chamberlain for the most ever in a triple-double. Harden is also the first player since Hall of Famer Larry Bird in February 1986 to have at least 100 points and 75 combined rebounds and assists over any three-game span.

The Rockets and Thunder have split two close games in Oklahoma City this season. Harden seems to have trouble with OKC defender Andre Roberson as Harden is shooting just 25.6 percent from the field in the two games, averaging 17.0 points, 12.5 assists and 8.0 rebounds.

Westbrook's Thunder played Wednesday night in Charlotte, and Westbrook entered that one with 16 triple-doubles and averages of 30.9 points (first in NBA), 10.5 assists (second) and 10.4 rebounds (tied for 11th). He and Hall of Famer Oscar Robertson, the only player to average a triple-double for a full season (1961-62), are the only players in league history average 30+ points, 10+ rebounds and 10+ assists through the first 30+ games of a NBA season. Westbrook had a string of seven straight triple-double games earlier this season, and dating to the start of last season OKC is a stunning 31-3 when Westbrook has a triple-double.

But Houston has a very good defender --  Harden is not -- in point guard Patrick Beverley and he's expected to return Thursday from a two-game injury absence. Beverley has done a solid job on Westbrook. In the two games against the Rockets, Westbrook is shooting 37.8 percent from the floor and is just 2-for-11 from 3-point range. Overall, Westbrook is averaging 28.5 points, 9.5 assists and 8.5 rebounds vs. Houston this season.

The Rockets have won four straight home meetings in the series and are 8.5-point favorites on NBA picks as of this writing. But does the game result even matter? This is all about Russ vs. the Beard.

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