PORTLAND – The first-ever Maine Red Claws playoff game will be Thursday night at the Portland Expo.

The Red Claws qualified for the NBA D-League playoffs for the first time in their four-year existence. They will play the Rio Grande Valley Vipers at 7 p.m. Thursday, in the first game of a best-of-three series.

The series will then move to Hidalgo, Texas for the second game Saturday at 8 p.m. and, if necessary, a third game Monday night.

The D-League playoffs consist of eight teams — the three division winners and five wild-card teams. Maine (26-24) enters the postseason as the No. 8 seed.

The Red Claws, after a 108-105 loss to the Erie BayHawks Saturday, finished in a tie for eighth place in the overall league standings, with Erie. The first tiebreaker to decide the playoff berth is head-to-head record, and Maine beat Erie five times in nine games this season.

The D-League has a unique way of deciding the pairings in the first round. Instead of simply putting No. 1 vs. No. 8 and so on, the division champions get to choose their first-round opponent.

West champion Bakersfield (36-14) had the league’s top record and chose first. Instead of a cross-country flight to Maine, the Jam opted to play No. 6 seed Austin, Texas (27-23).

The Central champion and No. 2 seeded Vipers (35-15) then chose Maine.

The other pairings are East champion and No. 4 Canton (30-20) against No. 7. Tulsa (27-23) and No. 3 Santa Clara (32-18), the top wild card team, against No. 5 Fort Wayne (27-23).

It is easy to see why Rio Grande Valley chose Maine. The Vipers routed the Red Claws in two games last February, 113-95 in Portland, and 139-122 in Hidalgo.

Rio Grande Valley, an affiliate of the Houston Rockets, is back in the playoffs after missing the postseason last year. The Vipers lost in the first round in 2011 and won the league championship in 2010.

NOTES: Tickets for Thursday’s playoff game go on sale Monday, starting at 8:30 a.m. at the team store (413 Congress St.). They can also be obtained by phone (210-6655) and online (www.maineredclaws.com).

Kevin Thomas can be contacted at 791-6411 or at:

kthomas@pressherald.com

Twitter: KevinThomasPPH