First Round NBA Western Conference Playoffs
August 18: Houston Rockets versus Oklahoma City Thunder
The teams enter with identical regular season records at 44-28. Houston is the 4th seed, while Oklahoma City is the 5th seed. Houston is stumbling into the playoffs, losers of their last three and the Thunder have lost two of their last three. Oklahoma City has won the last two games between the teams and two of three this season. They are a narrow one-point favorite with an over/under of 227.
Comparing the two teams statistically, the Rockets are the more potent offensive team, averaging 117.8 points per game versus 110.4 for the Thunder. On the other hand, the Thunder are significantly better defensively, giving up just 108.4 points per game as opposed to 114.8 for the Rockets. Houston has a 44.3 to 42.9 rebounding edge per game and the Thunder take care of the ball better, averaging 13 turnover per game versus 14.2 for the Rockets.
Houston is led by James Harder, who averaged 34.3 points per game during the season, to go along with 7.5 assists. Russell Westbrook would be the top scorer on most teams, dropping 27.2 per contest and 7.9 assists. Eric Gordon adds 14.4 to the scoring output, while Clint Capela does the dirty work inside to the tune of nearly 14 points and 14 rebounds. Houston has so much depth that Jeff Green, Robert Covington, Danuel House and Ben McLemore all average double-digit points per game off the bench.
Oklahoma City’s top offensive threats are Shai Gilgeous-Alexander, Dennis Schroeder, and Danilo Gallinari, each averaging 19 points per game. Gallinari and Chris Paul, who averages nearly 18 points per game, are top threats from long range, hitting around 40 percent from beyond the arc. Steven Adams (10.9 points, 9.3 rebounds) will battle Capela on the boards in an important battle underneath.
Houston clearly has the better offensive team and will win easily is the Thunder try to get into a shootout with them. However, that isn’t going to happen and Oklahoma City has proven to have a scheme and the defense to keep contain the Rockets firepower. I’m looking at another strong defensive performance by Oklahoma City, keeping this game “under” the 227 and in what pretty much amounts to a “pick em” game, the Thunder will come out on top.