Chris Paul and the Oklahoma City Thunder tip-off their post-season campaign against the Houston Rockets in what should be a series with no shortage of storylines.
SERIES PREVIEW: No.4 Rockets vs. No.5 Thunder
Last off-season, Paul was blindsided by a trade from the Rockets, sending him to Oklahoma City in a package for Russell Westbrook - with many expecting the rebuilding Thunder to struggle following Westbrook and Paul George leaving town.
But Paul had other ideas.
Given just a 0.2% chance to make the playoffs in pre-season by ESPN's Basketball Power Index predictions, the Thunder enter the playoffs with an identical 44-28 record as the Rockets in a 4/5 matchup.
A rather remarkable feat from the Thunder, considering the Rockets possess two MVPs in Westbrook and James Harden and now Paul has a chance to knock his former team out in the first round.
"It'll be interesting," Paul said of the Rockets-Thunder series. "Two teams that know a lot about each other. We'll prepare, get ready, and we'll see what's what."
This season, Paul has proven any doubters wrong, averaging 17.6 points, 5.0 rebounds, 7.9 assists, and 1.7 steals, while shooting 48.9 percent from the field and 36.5 percent from beyond the arc.
His former Rockets teammate P.J Tucker is expecting the 35-year-old to be at his best against his former team, putting his inside knowledge of the squad to good use.
"It'll be fun," Tucker said of facing Chris Paul, via Jonathan Feigen of the Houston Chronicle.
"This is interesting. After the trade last year, knowing him, he wants this bad. I know how bad he wants this. I know he's on the other side telling guys what guys are going to do, kind of trying to give our game plan I know how competitive he is.
"It's going to be an interesting series. It's going to be fun. I'm looking forward to it, for sure."
The Thunder have a chance to make some early ground in the series with Westbrook expected to miss the start of the series as he works his way back from a quad injury.
Harden has enjoyed a productive season alongside Westbrook, leading the league in scoring at 34.3 points per game and despite the storylines surrounding the matchup with Paul, Harden says nothing is personal.
"I don't ever take anything personal. I'm trying to win games, and I'm trying to win a playoff series. I take it one possession at a time, one game at a time," Harden said.
"My role on this team is to go out and perform at a high level, but also to be a leader and make sure that guys that are around me all have that same mindset. If I can do that, then I can give us a chance to win, especially with Russell [Westbrook] being out."
Can Paul exact revenge on his former team in the first round?
Game 1 tips off Wednesday, August 18 at 6:30 p.m. ET.
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