With only one day of seeding games remaining, the playoff picture is pretty clear. Matchups are more or less set, and there are some real prospects for high-level entertainment when the postseason begins next week. The Celtics will be facing off against the Sixers, again. The Clippers will be tasked with shutting down Luka Doncic, who has been All-World in the bubble. Through what feels like no small miracle, the Jazz finally avoided a first round draw with the Rockets and will go up against Nikola Jokic and the Nuggets.
Each of those examples brings something to the table, but none represent the complete package like the Rockets vs. Thunder series we're going to get. This series has it all, and I say that with no hint of exaggeration. If you like good basketball and intriguing sports storylines tied up into one pretty bunch, this is the series for you.
Let's start with the basics: Oklahoma City and Houston are both very good teams. The Rockets have employed a grand small-ball experiment that has fully empowered the skillsets of Russell Westbrook and James Harden. This is also the best chance for their extreme version of that strategy to work. The Thunder were supposed to be rebuilding, and instead built a deadly offense around three guards and ended up as one of the better teams in the league.
The two represent interesting contrasts in terms of where they are as a team. For OKC, this is all gravy. They're set to have multiple first-round picks for the next five or so years, have a budding star in Shai Gilgeous-Alexander, and are playing with house money in the playoffs. For Houston, an early playoff exit would be disastrous. Daryl Morey is one of the best GMs in the league, but even he will be on the hot seat if the Rockets suffer another early playoff exit.
Then there's everything else, which should provide us with all the entertainment we could have ever asked for. Westbrook going up against his longtime team. Chris Paul with the chance to stick it to Houston after they traded him to what everyone believed to be a rebuilding team. Westbrook vs. Paul in general. And -- get this-- they're staying at the same hotel! Not only the same hotel, but the same building. Paul has made a career out of being an irritant to go along with his Hall of Fame talents. What's going to happen when he does his usual schtick then runs into Harden, Westbrook, and P.J. Tucker in the elevator the next morning? These are professional athletes who can keep it under control, but it also wasn't that long ago that Paul led the Rockets through a secret tunnel at Staples Center to confront the Clippers.
I mean, it can't get any better for a first round playoff series, which can occasionally bring snoozers. Paul is going to do everything in his power to rain on Houston's small-ball parade. Westbrook and Harden know what's at stake for their own legacies and their team. It's going to get chippy. It's going to be good basketball. It's going to be awesome.