Tip-Off: 5:30 PM CT
Location: The Field House (Orlando, Florida)
Television: ESPN & Fox Sports Oklahoma
Radio: WWLS 98.1FM OKC The Sports Animal
Twitter: Follow @TheThunderGuys for live-tweets during the game
The Oklahoma City Thunder (44-28) finished off the regular season tied with the 4th best record in the West, and despite head-to-head series victories over both the Houston Rockets (44-28) and the Utah Jazz (44-28), the Rockets have been awarded the tiebreaker due to winning their division.
With Houston at the 4-seed, OKC drops to the 5-seed, and now the two teams are prepared to meet in a first round matchup that almost appears to be destiny.
A little over a year ago, the Thunder franchise was forever changed as Russell Westbrook was sent to Houston in exchange for Chris Paul and some draft picks. The trade was one made out of necessity after Paul George demanded (and received) a trade to the Los Angeles Clippers. Many expected OKC to enter an immediate rebuild, but the Thunder has had quite the magical season, and now they are in what many consider to be a favorable first round matcup.
The Thunder was one of the NBA’s best defensive teams in the Bubble, ranking second in defensive rating (105.4) while having the best perimeter defense. OKC held opponents to just 30.4% shooting from downtown. Inversely, three-point shooting is Houston’s specialty, which should make for an exciting battle.
Both teams are missing a key starter in Game 1 as Luguentz Dort is sidelined with a sprained knee for OKC, and Russell Westbrook is out with a strained quad for Houston. Dort is a defensive nightmare, and Westbrook is one of the most explosive players on the planet. To say that the missing players have equal roles for their teams would be absolutely incorrect as Westbrook is a future hall of famer, and Dort is just a rookie, but both will be missed by their teammates.
OKC can get by on defense without Dort, but they cannot afford to let a golden opportunity slip by. The Rockets are a talented team as is, but without Russell Westbrook, they lose some of their ability to push the ball in transition, which favors OKC in the long run. If the Thunder can close out on shooters around the perimeter and keep James Harden off the free throw line, they should have a good chance to kick off the first round with a win in Game 1.
- PG: Chris Paul
- SG: Shai Gilgeous-Alexander
- SF: Hamidou Diallo
- PF: Danilo Gallinari
- C: Steven Adams
- PG: James Harden
- SG: Eric Gordon
- SF: Danuel House Jr.
- PF: Robert Covington
- C: P.J. Tucker
- Luguentz Dort (sprained knee) is OUT.
- Chris Paul (sprained left hand) is OUT.
- Russell Westbrook (right quad strain) is OUT.
- Since arriving in Oklahoma City in 2008, the Thunder is 21-22 against the Rockets in the regular season (14-8 at home, 7-14 on the road) and 5-6 against the Rockets in the playoffs (3-2 at home, 2-4 on the road).
- The Thunder has won the season series with the Rockets 6 times, lost it 4 times, and tied 2 times.
- The Thunder won the regular season series against the Rockets this season 2-1 (1-0 at home, 1-1 on the road).