NBA Playoffs: Breaking down the Thunder-Rockets matchups

Russell Westbrook vs. Jeremy Lin? Thabo Sefolosha vs. James Harden? Darnell Mayberry weighs in on who has the edge at each position in the Thunder-Rockets series.
by Darnell Mayberry Published: April 20, 2013

POINT GUARD

RUSSELL WESTBROOK VS. JEREMY LIN

ANALYSIS: These two have faced off five times, three times since Lin emerged as an overnight sensation. Westbrook has gone home a winner in four of those meetings. Lin has scored at least 10 points in only one of those games. Sort of sums up this duel. Lin, though, can't be overlooked. He is capable of erupting on any given night as a scorer, especially with the way his big men provides him space with ball screens. But look out for Lin as a passer. He could be more dangerous as a distributor. As a Rocket, he's averaged 7.3 assists against the Thunder. OKC's worst nightmare would be for Lin to get his teammates going by creating open shots.

EDGE: Westbrook.

SHOOTING GUARD

THABO SEFOLOSHA VS. JAMES HARDEN

ANALYSIS: As effective as Sefolosha can be in slowing down the opposing team's best perimeter player, he has yet to prove he can limit Harden. Albeit a minuscule sample size, Harden's statistical production against the Thunder this season was far worse when Sefolosha was off the court as opposed to when he was on the floor. When the Thunder limited Harden in the first two meetings in the regular season it was a result of suffocating team defense rather than anything a single defender did. But the task of keeping Harden in check starts with Sefolosha, and if he can first be solid on the ball the Thunder will have much greater chance of avoiding a huge game from Harden.

EDGE: Harden.

SMALL FORWARD

KEVIN DURANT VS. CHANDLER PARSONS

ANALYSIS: This matchup, historically, has been much closer than you might expect. Parsons has more than held his own, as evidenced by his 3-3 record against Durant. In addition to supplying production across the stat sheet, Parsons has been a perennial pest defensively against Durant. In a historically efficient season, Durant shot just 38.7 percent in the two games he played against the Rockets when Parsons was in the lineup. There's a reason for that. Parsons is tough, fearless and relentless. And he's got the size and athleticism to put up a good fight. With all that being said, Durant still has averaged 26 points and nearly eight rebounds and four assists against Parsons.

EDGE: Durant.

POWER FORWARD

SERGE IBAKA VS. GREG SMITH

ANALYSIS: At this point, you might be asking yourself, ‘Who is Greg Smith?' We've got you covered. He's a 6-foot-10 big man in his second season. He went undrafted out of Fresno State before latching on with the Rio Grande Valley Vipers, the Rockets' D-League affiliate. Houston signed him in early February of last year, and after bouncing back and forth between the D-League and the Rockets, he's wound up as perhaps the most unlikely starter in this year's playoffs. He won the starting job only 10 games ago, the extent of his experience as a starter, and averaged 8.8 points, 5.6 rebounds and one blocked shot over that span. Worth noting that in his 10 games as a starter, Smith has averaged eight fouls per 48 minutes. Seems like a good player to attack if you're the league's best free throw shooting team and looking to get into the bonus early in each game.

EDGE: Ibaka.

CENTER

KENDRICK PERKINS VS. OMER ASIK

ANALYSIS: These two defensive-minded centers won't put much pressure on each other with their offense. But look out for Asik rolling to the basket and either finishing or turning and hitting the open man. Where the Thunder really needs to worry about Asik is on the boards. He's one of the best rebounders in basketball, his 11.7 rebounds per game ranking third this season. His 3.4 offensive rebounds ranked seventh. It'll be up to Perkins, at least to start, to keep Asik off the glass.

EDGE: Asik.

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by Darnell Mayberry
OKC Thunder Senior Reporter
Darnell Mayberry grew up in Langston, Okla. and is now in his third stint in the Sooner state. After a year and a half at Bishop McGuinness High, he finished his prep years in Falls Church, Va., before graduating from Norfolk State University in...
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