NBA bubble breakdown: Seven of eight first-round playoff matchups set

While four teams vie for a chance at the final NBA playoff spot Thursday, the remaining first-round series are now set. And perhaps the most anticipated matchup will see old friends reunite in the Orlando bubble.

Russell Westbrook's first playoff series as a member of the Houston Rockets will be against the Oklahoma City Thunder, the team that drafted him in 2008 and traded him last offseason. Westbrook spent his first 11 seasons with the Thunder before heading to Houston in the blockbuster deal that also sent Chris Paul to Oklahoma City.

"It'll be interesting," said Paul, who played two seasons in Houston before the trade. "Two teams that know a lot about each other. We'll prepare, get ready and we'll see what's what."

Chris Paul’s first impressions on playing against the Houston Rockets in the 1st Round of the NBA Playoffs. pic.twitter.com/wRrGQlzUGb

The only major question will be how much Westbrook plays after the Rockets announced Wednesday he is nursing a strained right quad. Westbrook did not play against the Indiana Pacers on Wednesday and won't against the Philadelphia 76ers in the final seeding game Friday. The Rockets said they will re-evaluate his status before the playoffs begin Monday.

Houston and Oklahoma City will meet in the 4-5 matchup in the Western Conference. Both are 44-27, so their seeding is still technically undecided, but without a true home-court advantage this year, seeding will likely matter very little

Elsewhere in the West, the Los Angeles Clippers clinched the No. 2 seed Wednesday and a first-round matchup with the Dallas Mavericks. The Denver Nuggets are the third seed and will face the Utah Jazz. The top-seeded Los Angeles Lakers will have to wait for the results of the West play-in between the eighth- and ninth-place teams to learn their first-round opponent.

The last two first-round series in the East were also decided Wednesday. The Miami Heat and Indiana Pacers will meet in the 4-5 matchup. Like the West, the two are tied (44-28) and seeding is still undecided. The Boston Celtics are the No. 3 seed and will play the Philadelphia 76ers.

The series at the top of the East were decided earlier this week: The top-seeded Milwaukee Bucks will face the Orlando Magic, and the second-seeded Toronto Raptors will play the Brooklyn Nets.

Russell Westbrook and Chris Paul will face off in the first round of the playoffs after being traded for one another last offseason. (Photo: Troy Taormina, USA TODAY Sports)

Wednesday's games

Pacers 108, Rockets 104: Myles Tuner and Justin Holiday each had 18 points, and  Indiana held off a late Houston rally despite 45 points from James Harden.

Raptors 125, Sixers 121: Toronto got a late run from the bench to make assistant Adrian Griffin a winner in his first game in the head coach's chair.

Thunder 116, Heat 115: Mike Muscala knocked down the winning 3-pointer with 5.2 seconds left to complete Oklahoma City's comeback from 22 points down.

Clippers 124, Nuggets 111: Los Angeles took the lead back for good early in the fourth quarter and pulled away from Denver down the stretch.

Thursday schedule

All times Eastern. All games also available on League Pass.

  • Wizards vs. Celtics, 12
  • Kings vs. Lakers, 1:30
  • Bucks vs. Grizzlies, 4
  • Mavericks vs. Suns, 4 (TNT)
  • Spurs vs. Jazz, 6:30 (TNT)
  • Blazers vs. Nets, 9 (TNT)
  • Pelicans vs. Magic, 9

State of the playoff race

The eighth seed in the Western Conference is the only playoff spot still up for grabs, and Thursday promises a wild conclusion to the race will four teams fighting for spots in the play-in. The Portland Trail Blazers enter the day in eighth, but the Memphis Grizzlies, Phoenix Suns and San Antonio Spurs are all tied a half-game back.

For the Blazers and Grizzlies, the task is simple: Win and they're in. (Memphis holds the edge in tiebreakers over Phoenix and San Antonio.) Either can still make the play-in with a loss, but they would need additional help. The Suns and Spurs both need to win and get help to move up and secure a spot.

Essential reading

TOUGH TEST:Why Lakers believe they can benefit from facing Blazers

RUN IT BACK:NBA bubble play could be expanded for next season

BUBBLE VISITORS:League issues guidelines for guests to join players

HEAVY HEART:How Lillard's late cousin inspired his huge 61-point game

MORE BUBBLE:Union executive won't rule out bubble for 2020-21 season

DELETE EIGHT:Teams not in the bubble losing ground for next season 

DOING HIS PART: How Moe Harkless used quarantine to support Black culture

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