Oklahoma City Thunder vs Houston Rockets: Round 1, Free Picks, Odds & Predictions

Oklahoma City Thunder vs Houston Rockets NBA Playoffs Round 1
Oklahoma City Thunder vs Houston Rockets, Western Conference Quarterfinals

James Harden had another off night, but it didn’t matter for the Houston Rockets as they advanced past the Oklahoma City Thunder in Game 7. Harden made just four of his 15 shots and was not one of three Rockets players who finished with at least 20 points. Robert Covington and Eric Gordon both scored 21 points and Russell Westbrook added 20 as Houston shot just 39.8 percent from the field. Houston edged out Oklahoma City despite the fact Luguentz Dort scored 30 points and Chris Paul had a triple-double for the Thunder.

Houston Rockets win 4-3

This series was as even as we expected it to be from the beginning and both teams showed off some strengths and weaknesses. The Rockets defended the 3-point line well against the Thunder, holding Oklahoma City to just 32.8 percent shooting from behind the arc, and Houston also made 43.5 percent of its shots in the series, which is a positive. However, the Rockets were inconsistent from behind the arc, which is to be expected, and that type of shooting could hurt them in the next round against the Lakers. Houston has a lot of work it must do if it wants to take down the Lakers in the next round, starting with a defensive gameplan to slow down Anthony Davis and LeBron James.

Game 1

August 18th, 6:30 p.m., The Field House

Russell Westbrook left the Oklahoma City Thunder before this season to team up with James Harden again in Houston. Now the pair of former Thunder stars will need to get past their old team in the first round of the NBA playoffs this year. The fourth-seeded Rockets and their high-octane offense will face off with the fifth-seeded Thunder in the most unpredictable first-round series in the league. Westbrook is out for the first few games of the series with a quadriceps injury, so it’ll be interesting to see how that affects both sides early on.

Oklahoma City has just slogged along this season with a team-first approach that has maximized the talent on the team. Chris Paul is the veteran leader steering the ship for coach Billy Donovan and Shai Gilgeous-Alexander is the team’s leading scorer at 19 points per game. No one player really took the bubble by storm, but the Thunder were still 4-4 in the closing stretch of the regular-season with various members of their team missing at some point during the restart. Now they are fully healthy and fully loaded heading into the postseason.

In the three previous seasons under Mike D’Antoni, Houston has at least advanced out of the first round of the playoffs, but this year feels different. All of the attention this season has been on Harden and Westbrook, but the Rockets had six other players average at least 10 points per game this season. Those secondary players will be important as Westbrook is expected to miss the start of this series with a quadriceps injury, leaving more of the scoring bulk on Harden. Westbrook played in just one of Houston’s last five games, scoring 20 points in a loss to San Antonio.

Westbrook’s injury has a major impact on how this series will play out on both sides. Houston loses its second-leading scorer and a player who could easily rattle off a triple-double in any given game, which means it’ll put less pressure on the Oklahoma City defense. The sooner Westbrook can return, the better it will be for Houston’s chances in this series. The Rockets are still the favorites to advance according to the New Jersey online sports betting sites, but you can’t sleep on the Thunder. Oklahoma City might not have the firepower to keep track with Houston’s offense, but it has the better defense, which is enough to push me to pick the Thunder to win the series at +150 odds.

Oklahoma City knows it has to take advantage of the Rockets while Westbrook is still out, so I expect the Thunder will come out with a purpose in Game 1. The Thunder are actually slight favorites in the opening game, so there won’t be much value in betting on them to win Tuesday. However, you can combine your wager on Oklahoma City winning Game 1 with the teams combining to score fewer than 225.5 points to create a nice parlay at +260 odds or take the over at +270 odds.

BET ON OKLAHOMA CITY THUNDER TO WIN

 

Game 2 (Houston Rockets lead 1-0)

Ausgust 20th, 3:30 p.m., AdventHealth Arena

Even without Russell Westbrook, the Houston Rockets still electrified the NBA fans with excellent offensive basketball against the Oklahoma City Thunder. The Rockets made 48 percent of their shots and finished with five scorers in double figures to take the opening game of the series. Oklahoma City’s scoring wasn’t nearly as widespread, though, Chris Paul came an assist shy of a triple-double in the loss.

Houston needed big games from its role players with Russell Westbrook out of the lineup, and it received those in spades. Jeff Green scored 22 points, Ben McLemore had 14 points, Eric Gordon chipped in 21 as well, all to complement 37 from James Harden. But more important was the fact those three complementary scorers shot 20-of-37, so they not only scored for the Rockets but did so at a very impressive clip. That is a very important way for Houston to survive however long it will be without Westbrook, and advance past Oklahoma City.

Oklahoma City did not receive the same complementary support around its three best players, which was a big reason why the Thunder couldn’t keep up with Houston’s offense. Dennis Schroder made just three of his 12 attempts in 31 minutes on the floor and finished with just six points and four assists. Shai Gilgeous-Alexander was just 2-of-8 from the field and scored nine points in 35 minutes of action while adding just four rebounds and an assist. Those players don’t need to fill the box scores consistently, but they needed to have more of an impact on the game than they did.

I’m not sure the Thunder have the firepower to match Houston’s offense, and that is more of a concern now than before the series began. Harden is going to score his points, and the Rockets will have enough players around him who can also score, but if they are all on top of their game at the same time, it might be too tall of a task for the Thunder. I’d bet the parlay from the New Jersey online sports betting sites and take the Rockets on the moneyline plus over 227.5 points scored in the game, which is listed at +240 odds.

BET ON HOUSTON ROCKETS TO WIN

Game 3 (Houston Rockets lead 2-0)

August 22nd, 6 p.m., The Field House

The Oklahoma City Thunder squandered a chance to tie the series with James Harden having an off night, and the Houston Rockets took a 2-0 series lead. Harden scored just 21 points on 5-of-16 shooting – including 2-of-11 from 3-point range – but the Thunder only made 34.4 percent of its 3-pointers and couldn’t find enough offense to support the 31 points from Shai Gilgeous-Alexander. Meanwhile, Houston had six other players in double figures to complement Harden’s below-average night.

Houston’s supporting cast was going to be important in this series due to Russell Westbrook’s injury, but it stepped up in a big way Thursday. P.J. Tucker made all four of his 3-point attempts and scored 14 points, Danuel House Jr. chipped in 19 points, and Jeff Green and Austin Rivers both added at least 10 points off the bench. If the Rockets bench can continue to outplay the Thunder’s role players then this will be a quick series in Houston’s favor.

Chris Paul had a rough go of things in Game 2 with only 14 points and two assists while making just 2-of-7 from behind the arc. His play is the barometer of Oklahoma City’s success, and when he struggles, the Thunder also tend to struggle. Oklahoma City also didn’t take advantage of Steven Adams as well as it should have, as Adams converted on all four of his shots in 30 minutes on the court.

The more Houston wins without Westbrook, the more confidence the Rockets build that they can make a run in the Western Conference once he returns. Oklahoma City hasn’t shown that it can take advantage of a depleted Rockets lineup, and I don’t expect that will change in Game 3. Houston is a three-point favorite, but I’d push that to five points and take the Rockets laying 5.5 points at +125 odds Saturday as opposed to the -235 odds you can get on the moneyline from the New Jersey online sports betting sites.

BET ON HOUSTON ROCKETS TO WIN

 

Game 4 (Houston Rockets lead 2-1)

August 24th, 4 p.m., AdventHealth Arena

Chris Paul and Dennis Schroder outdueled James Harden as the Oklahoma City Thunder rallied to force overtime then dominated the Houston Rockets in the extra session. The Thunder made so many little plays down the stretch to take advantage of several Rockets miscues as they tried to close out the game. Harden then fouled out early in the overtime, and Oklahoma City was able to cruise the rest of the game and fight its way back into this tight NBA playoffs series.

Schroder really struggled from the perimeter in the win, but he made the most of his opportunities when he attacked the basket. He made just two of his 10 3-point attempts, but worked his way to the free-throw line for nine attempts and made 8 of 13 attempts inside the arc. Paul made two big 3-pointers in overtime and made the key pass to Shai Gilgeous-Alexander for a 3-pointer near the end of regulation that put Oklahoma City up one. It was an all-around team effort to help bring the Thunder back into this series after dropping the first two games.

Harden made just 3 of 13 from behind the arc, but he still found ways to do what he does best and lead all scorers with 38 points. It was clear Houston wasn’t the same after he fouled out early in the overtime and proceeded to miss its first seven shots of the extra session. What will eventually catch up to the Rockets, though, is the lack of scoring depth behind Harden – and the eventual return of Russell Westrbook. P.J. Tucker had five points in 43 minutes on the floor and Austin Rivers had four in 25 minutes. Even Eric Gordon had some trouble, and made just a third of his shots from the field and finished with 18 points in 41 minutes.

If we’re being honest, Oklahoma City shouldn’t have won Game 3, and the Rockets simply let the game slip away with the mental mistakes. If Houston doesn’t have three turnovers in the final minute or Harden doesn’t foul out in overtime, it would have been a different game. Oklahoma City did a lot of great things to capitalize on those mistakes and steal a victory, but it wasn’t the better team most of the game. The Rockets will respond in a big way Monday for Game 4, so I’m locking down on Houston laying four points at -105 odds at the New Jersey online sports betting sites.

BET ON HOUSTON ROCKETS TO WIN

 

Game 5 (Series tied 2-2)

August 26th, 6:30 p.m., The Field House

The Oklahoma City Thunder rallied from a 15-point deficit in the third quarter to even their series with the Houston Rockets at two wins apiece. Houston made its first eight 3-pointers of the second half to build out that lead, but the advantage was shrunk to one by the start of the fourth quarter and the Thunder buckled down to deliver the win. The exciting series between these two rivals will go at least two more games now, giving us more exciting NBA playoffs basketball to watch compared to some of the blowouts we’ve seen so far this postseason.

Oklahoma City did two things really well in its win Monday: it fought its way to the free-throw line and it prevented Houston from taking foul shots. The Thunder made 22 of its 28 shots from the stripe while the Rockets attempted only 10 free throws in the game. It’s one way Oklahoma City overcame Houston making 23 3-pointers, but the Thunder also got timely scoring from its entire roster. Dennis Schroder scored a playoff-career-high 30 points, Chris Paul had 26 and Shai Gilgeous-Alexander chipped in 18 points and 12 rebounds. That team basketball is one of the few advantages Oklahoma City has over Houston, and it’s been using it well.

It’s hard to fault Houston for being upset at the foul shot discrepancy, but the Rockets certainly played well enough to win the game. James Harden scored 32 points to lead a trio of players with 20 or more points, but he also had 15 assists and made six 3-pointers. As a team, Houston shot 45 percent from the field, including those 23 3-pointers, and didn’t make any catastrophic mistakes like it did in Game 3. Sometimes the whistles won’t go your way, but Houston looked poised anyway despite its objections to the officiating.

The Rockets have led after the third quarter in each of the last two games only to see the Thunder rally on them. That will stop in Game 5 as Harden continues to make big shots and extend Houston’s season long enough for Russell Westbrook to return to the lineup. Oklahoma City led the league with 17 wins after trailing entering the fourth quarter, but that isn’t a sustainable path to victory in the playoffs. Twice is enough for Houston, which I’ll take laying 3.5 points with the double bet on over 225.5 points for the game at combined odds of +285 at the New Jersey online sports betting sites.

BET ON HOUSTON ROCKETS TO WIN

Game 6 (Houston Rockets lead 3-2)

August 31st, 9 p.m., AdventHealth Arena

Saturday’s Game 5 turned into a vital game for the future of the Houston Rockets in this postseason. The return of Russell Westbrook in the first round was important to help acclimate the point guard back into the NBA playoffs in a high-stress environment with a pivotal swing game in the series. Westbrook wasn’t close to 100 percent his normal self, but he did plenty of good things in 23 minutes to help the Rockets easily race past the Oklahoma City Thunder. I would expect Westbrook to only get stronger the more he plays, which is a positive sign for Houston moving forward in the postseason.

Houston didn’t need to do much with how poorly Oklahoma City was playing, but the Rockets were ready to go for Game 5. James Harden made 11 of his 15 shots, Robert Covington made 6 of 11 from 3-point range and Eric Gordon was efficient in shooting from inside the arc. The trio were the only three players in the game to score at least 20 points and overshadowed some struggles from the rest of the Rockets in the game. Jeff Green, Danuel House Jr. and Westbrook combined to make just eight of 34 shots, but they all made big contributions elsewhere. Green grabbed 10 rebounds, House secured eight and Westbrook pulled down six to go with seven assists.

It just was not Oklahoma City’s day on offense, which is a troubling sign moving forward for the Thunder. Lu Dort was just 3 of 16 from the field, Shai Gilgeous-Alexander made just two of his eight attempts and Oklahoma City made just seven of its 46 3-point shots. Where Oklahoma City didn’t lack was on the glass with Steven Adams and Darius Bazley both securing at least 12 rebounds, but that was far from enough to prevent the offensive meltdown from effecting the game. Chris Paul wasn’t a dominant offensive force either scoring (16 points) or facilitating (three assists), which must change ahead of Monday’s Game 6.

As poorly as the rest of the Rockets shot in Game 5, their most important players in this series were nearly unstoppable Saturday. Harden was as efficient as ever, Gordon was the secondary scorer Houston needed and Covington made timely shots again. The New Jersey online sports betting sites have Houston as a favorite to close out the series Monday, and I can’t disagree given what I saw. The Thunder really struggled to get something going on offense, and that makes it nearly impossible to beat the Rockets. Oklahoma City should be better offensively in Game 6, but it won’t be enough to get past Houston, so I’m betting the double on Houston laying 5.5 points and hitting the over 225.5 total points for +275 odds.

BET ON HOUSTON ROCKETS TO WIN

 

Game 7 (Series tied 3-3)

September 2nd, 9 p.m., AdventHealth Arena

Just when you’re ready to write off Chris Paul, he returns with clutch moments to remind you of his greatness. Paul scored 15 of his team-high 28 points in the fourth quarter as the Oklahoma City Thunder outlasted the Houston Rockets to force a Game 7 in their first-round series. Paul broke a tie in the final minute with a pair of free throws to extend Oklahoma City’s season as five Thunder players found their way into double figures. Paul also contributed seven rebounds and three steals as part of Oklahoma City’s efforts to force 22 turnovers from Houston.

In addition to Paul, the Thunder received a big contribution from Danilo Gallinari, who added 25 points in the victory. Gallinari was very quiet in the previous two games in this series, and his big game helped Oklahoma City overcome some of its other scorers struggling. The Thunder shot a respectable 42.7 percent from the floor, but that might not cut it in the final game of the series against a strong Houston offense. The pressure will be on Shai Gilgeous-Alexander to break out of his offensive slump and Dennis Schroder to shake off a tough shooting night for the Thunder to advance in the NBA playoffs.

Somehow Houston still shot 45.2 percent from the field despite shooting a lackluster 15 of 44 from behind the arc in Game 6. James Harden made just three of his 11 3-point attempts and Eric Gordon made just 1 of 6 in what was his worst offensive performance of the postseason. The key for the Rockets in Game 7, however, will be the contributions they get from the bench in their minimal minutes on the floor. Jeff Green had an off night shooting, but Danuel House Jr. scored 12 points in 30 minutes. The two of them and Austin Rivers will need to play well when they’re on the floor if Houston wants to move on to face the Lakers.

Game 7 in this series feels like a toss-up even though the New Jersey online sports betting sites have made Houston a five-point favorite. Both teams have flaws that make it easy to pick against them in a winner-take-all matchup, but they also have some advantages that make them strong picks. Ultimately, it becomes a question in my mind of which player you trust more to come through, and that is still James Harden. As much as he struggles sometimes with his shooting, he almost always finds a way to score, and that is an important quality in Game 7. Harden doesn’t have the best history in elimination games in his Houston career, but that isn’t going to be enough to stop me from betting on Houston at -195 odds to advance in a hard-fought Game 7.

BET ON HOUSTON ROCKETS TO WIN

 

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Josh Walfish is an award-winning journalist who has been covering college and professional sports in the United States. He holds a journalism degree from Northwestern University and his work has appeared in the Miami Herald, Chicago Sun-Times and Providence Journal. He most recently chronicled the UMass hockey teams rise to prominence over the last two years for the local newspaper

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