Thunder Begins Quest for Title

In order to advance, the Oklahoma City Thunder will need to eliminate James Harden's Houston Rockets.

In order to advance, the Oklahoma City Thunder will need to eliminate James Harden’s Houston Rockets.

Having fallen at the final hurdle last season, Oklahoma City will begin its quest to go one better this year with an opening round series against the Houston Rockets.

The Thunder is a heavy favorite (6/5) to win the Western Conference this season, setting up a potential NBA Finals rematch with Miami. Only the Heat (5/8) has shorter odds of winning the NBA title than Oklahoma City (17/4).

But before Scott Brooks’ side can think about a trip to South Beach, it will need to take care of an old friend. Writers couldn’t have scripted it any better; the Thunder will meet former teammate James Harden in the opening round.

Harden has propelled Houston to its first playoff appearance since 2009, emerging from Sixth Man of the Year into bona fide leader. While there’s no bad blood between Harden and his former colleagues, you can bet he’d like nothing better than to make it to the Western Conference semifinals.

Historically Speaking

It’s been a while since these two franchises met in the postseason. 16 years to be precise.

Between 1982 and 1997, the then-Seattle Supersonics and Houston Rockets met in the playoffs on six occasions. Seattle emerged victorious from each of the first five series, before falling to the Rockets in 1997.

The two sides have met twice (1982, 1989) in the first round of the playoffs, with Houston winning just one game in each series. Overall, the Sonics recorded a 20-11 record against Houston.

Bettors should be aware that only one series (1996) between the sides has ended in a sweep. The top-seeded Sonics easily dispatched of the No. 8 Rockets and went on to the NBA Finals that year.

Oklahoma City is 131-127 (.508) all-time during the playoffs. That includes a 24-19 (.558) record since relocating from the Pacific Northwest.

Houston is 115-121 (.487) all-time in the postseason, but is 102-99 (.507) since joining the Western Conference in 1980.

Searching for an Edge

Oklahoma City took two of three games from Houston this season, running up the scoreboard in the process.

Across those three meetings, the Thunder effectively dominated all aspects of the game. The only statistical categories the Rockets excelled in were steals and turnovers, and neither of those were what you would call definitive.

Of course, Houston’s run-and-gun approach to the game was one of the major contributing factors to the inflated numbers the Thunder managed to post.

However, it’s Oklahoma City’s shooting that should have Houston fans worries. The Thunder finished first in the league in free throw percentage (.828), third in field goal percentage (.481) and third in three-point percentage (.377). If that wasn’t scary enough, the side bettered each of those numbers when playing against Houston.

Betting Trends

Bovada has Oklahoma City as the overwhelming favorite to take the series. Exact game odds of the Thunder winning currently stand at: 4 games (21/10), 5 games (7/5), 6 games (3/1), 7 games (5/1).

Odds of Houston winning stand at: 4 games (80/1), 5 games (50/1), 6 games (14/1), 7 games (18/1).

Oklahoma City opens the series as favorite to win Game 1 with the spread at 11 points.

The Thunder (48-31-3 ATS) is 26-14-1 ATS this season when playing at home, and 45-29-2 ATS when entering the game as favorite.

Houston (41-40-1 ATS) was 17-23-1 ATS on the road this season, and 18-15-1 ATS as the underdog.

The Thunder was 2-1-0 ATS against the Rockets this season, although Houston covered the spread the last time the two sides met (Feb. 20). 11 points represents the largest spread offered between the sides this campaign.

The total opened at 208.5.

Houston (41-41-0) split the over and under evenly this season while Oklahoma City (36-43-0) favored the under. However, all three meetings between the two clubs this season ended with the total going over. With the two teams featuring in the NBA’s top three scorers, the same may be true on Sunday night.

 

Oklahoma City vs. Houston (Playoff History)

1982: Seattle 2-1 Houston

1987: Seattle 4-2 Houston

1989: Seattle 3-1 Houston

1993: Seattle 4-3 Houston

1996: Seattle 4-0 Houston

1997: Houston 4-3 Seattle

 

Schedule

GAME 1: Houston at Oklahoma City (Sun, Apr. 21, 9:30 PM ET)

GAME 2: Houston at Oklahoma City (Wed, Apr. 24, 7:00 PM ET)

GAME 3: Oklahoma City at Houston (Sat, Apr. 27, 9:30 PM ET)

GAME 4: Oklahoma City at Houston (Mon, Apr. 29, TBC)

GAME 5: Houston at Oklahoma City (Wed, May 1, TBC)*

GAME 6: Oklahoma City at Houston (Fri, May 3, TBC)*

GAME 7: Houston at Oklahoma City (Sun, May 5, TBC)*

*If necessary

Series winner meets winner of LA Clippers-Memphis in Western Conference semifinals.

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