Date & Time: Monday, August 18th, 2020, 6:30 PM ET (Wednesday 4:00 AM IST)
Venue: HP Field House, Disney World, Orlando, FL
The OKC Thunder will take on Western Conference rivals Houston Rockets in the first round of the 2020 NBA Playoffs.
The Houston Rockets finished as the No. 4 seed in the Western Conference, while the OKC Thunder locked in the fifth seed. OKC are entering the series with some momentum due to their performances in the NBA bubble, while the Rockets aren't in a great run of form at the moment.
This match-up is full of story lines as we will see Chris Paul take on his former teammate James Harden. The OKC Thunder would like to capitalise on the fact that Russell Westbrook will be missing this game due to injury.
OKC Thunder Preview
The OKC Thunder have a respectable 4-4 record in the NBA bubble and have rested several key starters prior to this match-up. They have been performing at a high level on the defensive end of the floor and will benefit from Russell Westbrook's absence.
Steven Adams has set the tone for the team on the defensive end of the floor and will create problems for the Houston Rockets in the paint. Additionally, Nerlens Noel and Mike Muscala have shown their ability to limit small-ball lineups. OKC Thunder's second unit is another asset to the team and have delivered consistent results.
Key player - Chris Paul
This match-up is deeply personal for Chris Paul as he is going up against his former team a year after taking them to the Western Conference Finals. The OKC Thunder had acquired Chris Paul via a trade with the Houston Rockets that was facilitated by James Harden.
Chris Paul was tasked with leading a young OKC Thunder team and has exceeded expectations. Apart from his extraordinary leadership skills, he has also performed well this season and averages 17.6 points and 6.7 assists.
The OKC Thunder will need Paul to perform well in this match-up and set the tone for the rest of the series. He will be motivated to show the Houston Rockets that they made a huge mistake by trading him.
OKC Thunder predicted lineup
Chris Paul, Luguentz Dort, Shai Gilgeous-Alexander, Danilo Gallinari, Steven Adams
Houston Rockets Preview
The Houston Rockets are entering this match-up short-handed but would like to start off the series strong. They had started their NBA bubble campaign with a bang and won four out of their first five games. Since then, the Houston Rockets have lost three straight and struggled defensively.
The small-ball formula that was devised by Houston Rockets general manager Darly Morey had been effective throughout the season. However, over the last four games, th Rockets have made less than 30% of their shots from behind the arc. The silver lining for the team is that their second unit have been performing efficiently on offense.
Key player - James Harden
James Harden has had an incredible season so far and currently leads the league in points and steals. The Houston Rockets will need another strong performance from 'The Beard' in order to win this match-up.
Despite his dominant performance in the regular season, many critics suggest that James Harden will be ineffective in this match-up due to his history of choking in the playoffs. James Harden will be looking to put up big numbers and prove his doubters wrong.
Houston Rockets predicted lineup
Ben McLemore, James Harden, P.J. Tucker, Danuel House, Robert Covington
OKC Thunder vs Houston Rockets Match Prediction
This game will go down to the wire and will be an entertaining contest. The Houston Rockets desperately need to win this match-up to preserve their hopes of a deep playoff run. The Oklahoma City Thunder are the favourites entering this game and could possibly win the series as well.
Daryl Morey and Mike D'Antoni will be in the hot seat if the Houston Rockets are unable to perform well in this playoff series. Additionally, James Harden's legacy will be marred by his incompetence in the playoffs if he doesn't step up.
Chris Paul will be looking to dominate the Houston Rockets' defense and give the OKC Thunder the W.
Where to watch OKC Thunder vs Houston Rockets?
Live coverage of the match can be seen on TNT. The same will be broadcast nationwide in the US on ESPN. You can also live-stream the fixture via NBA League Pass.
Published 16 Aug 2020, 00:54 IST