The Houston Rockets and Oklahoma City Thunder get underway tomorrow night at 8:30 CT, and it promises to be one of the more entertaining series in the playoffs this year. Both teams are top 10 in the league in pace, both have high-powered offensive attacks led by young wing players, and played very entertaining games in the regular season.
The Thunder are expected to handle the Rockets and dispose of them in five games, but nobody can tell you with absolute certainty the result of a series before it starts. With a streaky shooting roster and dangerous transition attack, the Rockets could surprise some folks and give the Thunder a scare. If they are to do that, how will the series go down? Let's look at three key matchups.
1) Chandler Parsons on Kevin Durant
Kevin Durant pulled off the unbelievable feat of a 50-40-90 season this year, presumably the first of many, and established himself as one of the league's two transcendental stars. Against the Rockets, the results were mixed; he managed one 37 point outburst, a workingman's 26 point night, and one where scored just 16.
In those contests, he shot 47% from the field, a strong figure, but a good bit off his season mark of 51%. A lot of that had to do with Chandler Parsons. It's not secret that Parsons gets up for big games, relishing the chance to guard a star player or take a big shot, and for that reason I'm tremendously excited to see him in these playoffs.
If Parsons can limit Durant like he did in the one game the Rockets won in the season series (he held Durant to 16 in that one), it will go a long way towards helping the Rockets chances.
2) Serge Ibaka on Omer Asik/Greg Smith
Serge Ibaka is one of the top shot blockers in the NBA, swatting away 3 shots per game. Against the Rockets, he's going to be crucial for the Thunder, as he can almost single handedly shut down the team's penetration.
As Ibaka will keep the Rockets from feeling too comfortable in the paint, the Rockets have to make him pay for helping off big men. Whoever Ibaka guards, be it Asik or Smith, will have to take advantage of the fact that he leaves them to block shots and catch passes from guards and finish them.
3) Jeremy Lin on Russell Westbrook
With James Harden gone, a lot more playmaking responsibilities have been bestowed upon Russell Westbrook, and he has responded very well. He's in the midst of a career season, putting up a spectacular 23.2, 7.4, 5.2 line.
Jeremy Lin will be tasked with guarding him, and I'm more than a bit concerned that Westbrook might smoke him. He's nowhere near the sieve that Harden is defensively, but Lin has struggled with faster guards in the past. Just like Durant, Westbrook can take over a game if he gets hot, and if Lin cannot slow him down, it's going to be an extremely long series for the Rockets.