The New Orleans Pelicans swept the Portland Trail Blazers in four games and the Golden State Warriors have a commanding 3-1 series lead over the Kawhi Leonard-less San Antonio Spurs. That leaves two first-round Western Conference playoff series still up for grabs, and both will feature a pivotal Game 4 Monday night.
It starts at 8 p.m. EDT when the Houston Rockets visit the Minnesota Timberwolves. The Utah Jazz host the Oklahoma City Thunder at 10:30 p.m. EDT Monday night. Houston and Utah have respective 2-1 series leads.
Oklahoma City entered the playoffs as the favorite to reach the second round, though it’s not exactly shocking to see them trail their series with Utah. The Jazz and Thunder had an identical regular-season record, each led by a star guard and an elite defensive player.
Those guards, of course, are reigning NBA MVP Russell Westbrook and Rookie of the Year candidate Donovan Mitchell. Ricky Rubio has managed to put up similar numbers in the first round, giving Utah the edge, thus far.
Utah’s point guard was the star of Game 3 with a triple-double in the win, prompting Westbrook to declare Rubio wouldn’t be as effective in Game 4.
“He made some shots,” Westbrook told reporters Saturday night after Rubio had 26 points, 11 rebounds and 10 assists in Utah’s 115-102 Game 3 win. “Too comfortable. But I’m gonna shut that s— off next game though. Guarantee that.”
If Minnesota is able to tie up their series with Houston at 2-2, that might be the biggest surprise of the first round. The Rockets led all teams with 65 regular-season wins, and they’ve been far from dominant against the West’s No.8 seed.
The Rockets nearly lost the series opener at home, and they were defeated by 16 points in their first road game. MVP frontrunner James Harden missed 16 of his 18 field-goal attempts in Houston’s Game 2 win.
“I’d say [the past] couple months we haven’t played really well,” Rockets head coach Mike D’Antoni said before Sunday’s practice, via ESPN.com. “That’s why I was worried the whole time about resting guys, doing this, getting out of rhythm. [People say], ‘It doesn’t really mean a whole lot.’ Ehhhh, it does.
“Anyway, we are where we are. We’ll be fine. We’ll be OK.”
Houston and Golden State had the same odds to win the 2018 NBA Finals at the start of the playoffs. The Warriors are now favored to successfully defend their title, per OddsShark.
Both of Monday’s NBA playoff games can be seen on TNT.