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Preview of Thunder-Rockets matchup

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Houston Rockets v Oklahoma City Thunder Photo by Jeff Haynes/NBAE via Getty Images

On Tuesday, the Houston Rockets and the Oklahoma City Thunder face off in the Western Conference’s No. 4-vs.-No. 5 playoff series.

What’s sure to be a great series will possibly come down to who’s playing and who’s not playing.

The reason I say this is because injuries can either make or break a team.

The Rockets will be without Russell Westbrook in Game 1.

And it looks like the Thunder will be without Luguentz Dort on Tuesday.

It’s crazy.

It’s like the basketball gods listened to make sure this series happened.

The Thunder had a 0.2% chance of making the playoffs this year after the franchise-altering Chris Paul-for-Russell Westbrook trade last summer.

On Friday, OKC clinched the 5th seed in the West and finished the regular season 44-28.

It seems everything is going, somewhat, in favor of OKC.

For the most part, everyone is healthy - which was the downfall for the Thunder when they restarted the season - going 4-4 in the bubble.

No one on OKC’s squad is averaging 20 points per game - but Chris Paul, Dennis Schroder, Shai Gilgeous-Alexander, and Danilo Gallinari are all averaging 17 points per game. Steven Adams will be used heavily in the paint since he’s the team’s top rebounder with 9.3 boards per game.

So, since Westbrook is out - the Thunder will have to focus on stopping James Harden, who was traded to Houston in 2012 and defending Eric Gordon.

Gordon is averaging 14.4 points in 28.2 minutes per game.

Harden is a menace when he’s out on the court, and the Thunder will have their hands full stopping The Beard, who’s averaging 34.4 points per game.

While in the bubble, when Harden was on the bench, the Rockets were outscored by 16.8 points per 100 possessions, per The Oklahoman’s Joe Mussatto.

Another angle the Thunder will have to conquer is stopping Houston from shooting 3-pointers. The Rockets lead in 3-point attempts per game (45.3), with Harden attempting 12.4 3-pointers per game.

So, who does head coach Billy Donovan use to stop Harden with Dort out? He’ll look to Adams, Terrance Ferguson, Hamidou Diallo, Gallinari, and surprisingly, Paul.

Game 1 of the series tips off Tuesday at 5:30 p.m. CT and will be shown on TNT.


Who wins Game 1?

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