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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
KEVIN MARTIN VS. TERRENCE JONES
ANALYSIS: Martin might have only six playoff games under his belt. But that's only 13 fewer games than Jones has played. Period. The rookie out of Kentucky has been the Rockets sixth man for all of eight games. (Carlos Delfino could be considered Houston's sixth man, but Jones has been first off the bench lately so we're going with him). Jones, a versatile forward, has been solid in the role … but, ahem, he's been in it for only eight games. He's played in more D-League games this season (24) than NBA games. And now he's playing a prominent role in the playoffs.
ANALYSIS: For the Thunder, it's Martin, Reggie Jackson and Derek Fisher. For the Rockets, it's Patrick Beverley, Carlos Delfino and Francisco Garcia. Houston's hodgepodge averaged 22.6 points for the Rockets this season. OKC's averaged 23.4. While the Thunder's crew is more versatile and more explosive, Houston has specialists who excel at helping the Rockets do what they do best. They connected on 221 3-pointers and did so while shooting a very respectable 37.6 percent from 3-point range. Fisher single-handedly gives the Thunder the edge in playoff experience. Couple that with the Rockets' trio relying so heavily on perimeter shooting and that's just too much risk to count on Houston's wing players who come off the bench consistently coming through.
NICK COLLISON/HASHEEM THABEET VS. TERRENCE JONES/DONATAS MOTIEJUNAS
ANALYSIS: The Rockets' duo has played a combined 63 career games. Motiejunas had been disappointing of late that he was recently benched. Meanwhile, the Thunder has one of the steadiest bench players in basketball in Collison and a backup center in Thabeet who just keeps getting better.
SCOTT BROOKS VS. KEVIN MCHALE
ANALYSIS: McHale's coaching record stands six games under .500, and he is making his first foray into the playoffs as a coach. Brooks has taken his team to the Western Conference Finals, the NBA Finals and has won 24 playoff games. Beyond experience, Brooks has the better roster and a much more reliable system, which is built on defense leading to offense as opposed to all offense all the time.
CHESAPEAKE ENERGY ARENA VS. TOYOTA CENTER
ANALYSIS: This one's not even close. The Thunder has ranked ahead of the Rockets in each of the last five seasons. The Toyota Center hasn't hosted a playoff game since 2009. Houston went 29-12 at home this year. OKC went 34-7 at home. The Rockets have segments of the arena that are loud and into the game from start to finish. But they don't come close to matching the passion of the 18,000-plus that fill Chesapeake Energy Arena.
ANALYSIS: Houston could have climbed as high as sixth in the standings. The Rockets fell to eighth after losing four of their final six games. Their two wins in down the stretch? A three-point home win over Phoenix that was the result of an ill-advised last-second goaltend by Suns center Jermaine O'Neal and a 21-point home win over a Sacramento team playing out the string. The Thunder went 18-7 since March 1 despite essentially conceding the last game. OKC was dominant defensively down the stretch, holding eight of its final nine opponents under 100 points.
ANALYSIS: By any measure, the Thunder has the advantage here. Oklahoma City's roster is older and has much more playoff experience. Derek Fisher, with 229 playoff games under his belt, has appeared in more postseason contests than the Rockets' entire team. The Thunder has 625 combined playoff games. The Rockets players have played a combined 133.