The TDS staff got together and made their playoff predictions for the first-round series. Go Rockets!
IT IS PLAYOFF TIME IN HOUSTON ROCKETS FANS!!! Of course, the Rockets draw the Oklahoma City Thunder in the first round. It is a shame that home court advantage is not available for this series, because I believe that this would have created the most incredible atmosphere in each of the team’s arena. With that being said, this is a fascinating series for a multitude of reasons. Who has the advantage, Russell Westbrook or Chris Paul? How about James Harden against his old team? How will the Rockets handle Steven Adams inside? Will Eric Gordon play into shape, and play up to the very generous contract the Rockets gave him recently? My official prediction: Rockets in 6, but it will not be an easy series to say the least. The Thunder are dangerous, and Chris Paul will be out for blood. Buckle up Red Nation, this first round series could be a very bumpy ride. #OneMission
- Michael Brown
This series would have been a dream for the NBA pre-quarantine. You’ve got Russell Westbrook and Chris Paul playing against each other, two fanbases with an acrimonious history, and the CP3 Revenge Tour all front and center in this matchup. Of course Russ is hurt and will probably miss the entire series and there is no homecourt advantage for that rowdy OKC crowd. The consolation prize is pretty good though: James Harden vs. Chris Paul is sure to take all the digital ink from this series. However, Harden’s history of carry a team deep into the playoffs by himself doesn’t inspire much confidence. The Thunder are already a matchup nightmare for Houston because their 3-guard lineup can go even smaller than Houston’s smallball lineups and can prey on Houston’s lack of guard stoppers. I keep seeing that the Rockets are the favorites in this series, which speaks to Harden’s brilliance, but I think this is OKC’s series to lose. I’ve got Thunder in 5.
Of course, the two teams who swapped Hall-of-Fame point guards last July will meet each other in a first-round series one year later. Unfortunately, the point guard the Rockets obtained in the deal may miss the entire series due to an injured quad — which is a huge cause for concern. Even without Russell Westbrook, one can argue that Houston has the better team on paper, but their style of play depends on his availability.
Westbrook was the primary reason in the Rockets’ decision to commit full-time to micro-ball. Without him on the floor, Westbrook’s absence allows the Thunder to key-in on their defense against James Harden. He will be the Rockets only ball-handler — which makes Houston’s offense even more predictable. Sure, Harden still has his running mate Eric Gordon. But his productivity throughout the season has been so inconsistent, it’s hard to predict what version of Gordon the Rockets will be getting for the post-season.
Overall, I think this series will come down to the Harden versus Chris Paul battle. The former teammates have had an exceptional season, and it will be the performance of the All-Star guards to will their respective team in an evenly matched series.
Rockets in seven.
- Coty M. Davis
This may be the series that suffers most from being in the bubble. It’s easy to imagine insane, raucous, if somewhat-basketball-naive, crowds in OKC for this one. It’s easy to imagine the Houston crowd gaining in strength and volume if the Rockets do well.
Houston, like Los Angeles, is in large part a city of people from elsewhere, with lots to do that isn’t a sporting event (normally). So the sports crowds tend to rise and fall with actual success, rather than an idea of rabid inherited fandom like in many eastern and midwest cities, or uniqueness of pro sports (like OKC).
Anyhow, none of that will matter this time. There will be none of the usual complaints about the Rockets lower bowl seats early in a game. We all know those people are all up in the bar, watching with a bourbon glass in hand, getting themselves fortified for the high-variance to come. Now, they can do that at home.
One has to think the stats geeks are loving all this. You finally have a site with absolutely controlled variables. The arenas are the same, the conditions for the players, aside from a few decor choices in hotels, are the same. There’s no crowd, no travel, no homecourt, or hometown. If you wanted a pure experimental basketball lab, you’ve got it, because the games in the playoffs are meaningful. The seeding games were almost random in team intent, one team wanted to win, the other didn’t, or vice-versa. Not so with the playoffs, it should be interesting.
As for Rockets-Thunder itself, there may be more on this later, but I’m predicting Rockets in six, five if Westbrook plays. The Thunder are a good story, a solid team, and The Last of The Midrange Gunfighters. Media tend love teams like that from small markets, talking about them feels like a Good Deed to the coastal writers. They like a bit of grit, as long as it stays somewhere in fly-over country.
OKC’s scoring is spread out at about 20 points each for four players. This is good, in that it raises the floor. That team is largely going to always score the same number of points. This is bad, in that the team like that is largely going to score the same number of points. I think that like there’s a high floor for OKC, there’s a lower ceiling. I simply don’t think OKC can score enough, over seven games, to defeat the Rockets.
I also think the record against good or bad teams is meaningful. The Thunder, with their consistency and high floor, beat up on bad teams, and lose to good ones. The Rockets, with their inconsistency, beat up on good teams, don’t bring the same effort, and lose to bad ones (though just how bad is Phoenix, really?). That should favor the Rockets in this playoff series. The playoffs are about beating good teams.
Rockets in six.
The Rockets have had it easy in the first round the past three years, but that isn’t the case this year as they face the rival Thunder.
I’d be much more optimistic about this series if the Rockets were healthy, but Russell Westbrook has already been ruled out for Game 1 and the team is not at its 100% health.
Danuel House, P.J. Tucker and Eric Gordon have all dealt with bubble injuries and now they are facing a hot Thunder team with nothing to lose and a chip on their shoulder.
The pressure of this series is all on the Rockets. They are meant to be far better than the Thunder and are supposed to be making a deep playoff run. The Thunder were not expected to even make the playoffs, let alone the fifth seed. Everything past this point for them is icing on the cake.
The start of this series is crucial for the Rockets. They need to come out of the gates strong and set the tone or they could be out of this series real quick.
I think the Thunder are riding this momentum right now and the Rockets are limping into these playoffs, which is why I say Thunder in 6.
I REALLY REALLY REALLY REALLY hope I’m wrong here.
- Jeremy Brener
After some serious back-and-forth with myself, I think I’ve come to the conclusion that I’d be much more concerned with missing Westbrook for a game or two, assuming he needs that little time to recover, if Houston’s role guys didn’t prove this bubble that they could truly make a difference. The emergence of Danuel House Jr. and Ben McLemore is going to be the difference-maker this series. If Houston can steal one of the two next games without #0, then they can take the series in 6 games. If Westbrook doesn’t return, I think OKC can beat Houston in 7. The Thunder are a very smart team and I would expect Steven Adams to play his role as center better than any other matchup. You can’t bait this team into bad post-ups.
- Conrad Garcia
Well, it’s finally here and the Rockets drew a difficult first-round opponent. I feel like the Thunder can match up with Houston defensively, but at the end of the day, the Rockets are the better team, even without Russell Westbrook. The Thunder are going to have a hard time hitting enough threes over a series to keep with the Rockets, and Steven Adams’ impact will be minimal. We watched Brook Lopez torture the Rockets down low in the bubble matchup against the Milwaukee Bucks, and it meant nothing. A big man going 12-20 can be easily offset in the math game by Houston’s three-ball approach. The series will be close, because the Rockets are banged up, but Houston takes this one in 7. Fully healthy, it’s Rockets in 5 or 6, but nagging injuries to Eric Gordon, Danuel House, and P.J. Tucker (who will all play), alongside a more serious one to Russ (who won’t play), keeps this thing tighter than it needs to be. Rockets advance. That’s all that matters.
- Darren Yuvan