The field is set for the 2019 NBA Playoffs, which begin on Sunday.
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Here is the schedule for the series, which begins on Monday:
- Game 1 - Monday at Portland, 1:00 AM IST
- Game 2 - Wednesday at Portland, 8:00 AM IST
- Game 3 - April 20 at Oklahoma City, 7:00 AM IST
- Game 4 - April 23 at Oklahoma City, 7:00 AM IST
- Game 5 (if necessary) - April 25 at Milwaukee, time TBD
- Game 6 (if necessary) - April 27 at Detroit, time TBD
- Game 7 (if necessary) - April 29 at Milwaukee, time TBD
Recapping the season series
Result: Thunder swept series 4-0
Best game: Mar. 7, 2019 - Thunder 129, Blazers 121 [OT]
A back-and-forth contest that needed an extra five minutes to settle. This high octane clash saw the Blazers' best players show up - Damian Lillard dropped 51 points, CJ McCollum had 25 while Jusuf Nurkic registered 13 points, 17 rebounds, 3 assists, and 2 steals - yet it wasn't enough as the Thunder ran away with the overtime win and swept the season series.
Oklahoma City outscored its opponents 16-8 in overtime, led by the All-Star duo of Russell Westbrook (37 points, 7 rebounds, and 3 assists) and Paul George (32 points, 14 rebounds, and 6 assists).
Best performance: Paul George - 47 points, 12 rebounds, 10 assists, and 2 steals on 15-of-26 shooting (57.7%) from the field and 8-of-13 (61.5%) from beyond the arc.
George was red-hot from the New Year to the All-Star break and this was one of his signature performances.
It was with games like these, prior to the All-Star break, that George had made the MVP race a three-player battle along with James Harden and Giannis Antetokounmpo.
Key storyline: Which version of both teams will show up?
Since the All-Star break, both these teams have trended in opposite directions.
With some key additions in Rodney Hood and Enes Kanter around the All-Star break, the Blazers started rolling. At 19-6, they have the second-best record in the league since All-Star weekend while having the league's best offensive rating at 116.5.
However, the team enters this postseason without their starting center in Jusuf Nurkic, who sustained compound fractures to his left tibia and fibula. More importantly, the playoffs are all about matchups and the Blazers got swept last year when they went up against the New Orleans Pelicans. They do seem like a deeper team this time around, but against two defensive stars like Westbrook and George, can they advance to the Conference semifinals?
The Oklahoma City Thunder have the 16th-best record in the league (12-13) since the break and that's after closing the regular season on a 5-game winning streak. Their once top 5 defense has slipped to 11th since the break and their offensive rating is in the bottom third at 23rd. Other than adding Markieff Morris, the Thunder haven't made a lot of changes in their roster yet they have played like two different teams before and after the All-Star break. Prior to the break, OKC had the league's third-best defense and had won 11 of its last 13 games.
3 Players to Watch
Paul George: George's form and performance is a huge key to the Thunder winning this series and having a deep playoff run. In 2,841 minutes while he is on the court, OKC net rating is +8.1 (team-best), however, in the 1,130 minutes without him, the Thunder's net rating is -9.0 (team-worst). When OKC was at its best, winning 11 of 13 before the break, George was averaging 35.4 points and 2.3 steals on 48.1% shooting from the field and 45.0% from beyond the arc. On the other hand, in the team's roughest stretch of the season, where they lost 13 of 19, George was averaging 25.4 points and 1.7 steals on 38.3% shooting from the field and 32.7% from beyond the arc.
The Thunder, who lack shooting and rank in the bottom third of all shooting metrics, depends hugely on George to have his stroke and be locked in defensively to win games. He will most likely finish third in the MVP race with season averages 28.0 points, 8.2 rebounds, 4.1 assists, and 2.2 steals (all career-highs). With apologies to Westbroo, PG is ultimately the key to OKC.
Damian Lillard: Unlike George and Westbrook, Damian Lillard's numbers don't break the screen but there's no debating his value to the team. When he's on the court, the team has a net rating of 8.0 (second-best in the team) and while he is on the bench, the Blazers have a net rating of -7.3 (team worst).
Lillard has an opportunity to make up for last year's disappointing sweep in the 1st Round in which he was outplayed by the Pelicans' Jrue Holiday. Beyond all others, Lillard's sub-par performance was the biggest reason for that early exit. For Portland to advance this time, he'll likely need to out-shine both George and Westbrook.
Russell Westbrook: PG's efficiency is critical, but Westbrook is the Thunder's motor. In the 34 triple-doubles he recorded this season, the team went 24-10 (70.6%). Coincidentally, in the Thunder's best stretch of winning 11 of 13 games, Westbrook had recorded a triple-double in 11 of those games. OKC can't win with just George showing up. They need both their All-Star to play their best to win.
For the third straight season, Westbrook has averaged a triple-double for the season averaging 22.9 points, 11.1 rebounds, and 10.7 assists (assists leader for a second straight year).
- In the Portland franchise's 49 years of existence, they faced the SuperSonics (now the Thunder) four times (1978, 80, 83, 91) in the postseason. Both teams won 2 series apiece.
- The Blazers are 2-9 in their last 11 first round series only advancing to the Conference semifinals in 2014 and 2016.
- In their two previous playoffs, both since Kevin Durant left, Russell Westbrook and the Oklahoma City Thunder have not advanced to the Conference semifinals. Will the third time be the charm?