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Rockets vs. Thunder game preview: it’s like deja vu all over again

Oklahoma City Thunder v Houston Rockets - Game Seven Photo by David Sherman/NBAE via Getty Images

The Houston Rockets and Oklahoma City Thunder look a little different than they did in last season’s first round playoff series. In fact, the Rockets look a lot different than they did on opening night.

You’ll remember that these teams were supposed to play each other to tip off the season, but COVID protocols prevented Houston from being able to field enough players for the game. It was the first postponement of the season, and it wasn’t the last. Finally, these teams get to meet tonight as the first game of a two-game series that concludes Wednesday night in OKC.

Neither of these teams were expected to have a shot at the playoffs (especially after the James Harden trade in Houston’s case), but if the season ended today, Houston would have the final play-in spot. OKC is just a game behind the Rockets. With both teams featuring a group of young players, getting some valuable playoff experience (in addition to those tasty playoff checks) would probably be most welcome for both franchises.

There’s also the matter of draft picks when you talk about these teams. As a result of the Russell Westbrook trade, the Thunder get the two best picks among OKC, Miami, and Houston’s first round selections. Houston gets the worst of those picks. The Heat actually have the worst record of the three squads at 7-12 (thanks to some injuries/COVID issues), but in a weak division Miami is likely to turn things around and make the postseason.

To reset, OKC now features Shai Gilgeous-Alexander as the face of the franchise. Lu(guentz) Dort doesn’t have a Harden to stop tonight, but Rockets fans may be wary of the Arizona State product after his heroics in last season’s playoffs. Al Horford and Kenrich Williams are new faces in OKC, as is George Hill, who will miss tonight’s game with a thumb injury. Theo Maledon and Aleksej Pokusevski are rookies getting serious run, and Isaiah Roby is a second year forward playing 20 minutes a night after playing a total of 11 for OKC last season. Hamidou Diallo, Mike Muscala, and Darius Bazley are still with the team and playing consistently.

Houston will be without David Nwaba, who is out with an ankle sprain. Stephen Silas announced it yesterday to the media, but since I get to pick which tweet to use as a source, I’m picking Kelly Iko’s because A) Kelly used to write for The Dream Shake, and B) I’ve met Kelly and he’s cool.

Tip-off is at 7pm CT on AT&T SportsNet Southwest