1. POINT GUARD
REGGIE JACKSON VS. MIKE CONLEY
ANALYSIS: This is a tough, tough matchup for Jackson. The Thunder's second-year floor general has been thrown into the fire following Russell Westbrook's season-ending knee injury but performed admirably in the final four games against Houston. Conley, however, is a couple of cuts above Rockets point guard Patrick Beverley. Not only is Jackson still finding his way on the Thunder and in these playoffs, but he's also still learning his opponents. Jackson has played just 38 minutes against Conley in the last two seasons. And while that unfamiliarity can cut both ways, Jackson's inexperience will be a tough hurdle to clear. Conley is quick, crafty and clever. He's a bulldog defender and a floor general capable of running his team without making many mistakes. No matter how this matchup unfolds, it'll be great experience for Jackson.
2. SHOOTING GUARD
THABO SEFOLOSHA VS. TONY ALLEN
ANALYSIS: These are two of the best perimeter defenders in basketball. Because of that, we expect they'll spend little time actually matched up against one another. Sefolosha could be assigned to Conley, while Allen could draw the task of slowing down Jackson. But both Sefolosha and Allen have the potential to be game-changers with their strength, length, instincts and toughness. Where Sefolosha can separate himself most is on the offensive end. If he can be the sharpshooter that he was in the regular season, when he made a career-high 108 3 pointers and connected on 41.9 percent from that range, Sefolosha will supply the Thunder a much-needed source of scoring that the Grizzlies will have to respect. Allen, while not a threat offensively, has a knack for scoring easy baskets on run-outs, cuts and putbacks. Quietly, those plays pile up, as they did in the Grizzlies' 4-2 series win over the Los Angeles Clippers. But because the Thunder is much more of a perimeter-oriented team, Allen is more valuable in this series. He can guard every single perimeter threat the Thunder can trot out. And chances are good that he can take them completely out of the offense.
3. SMALL FORWARD
KEVIN DURANT VS. TAYSHAUN PRINCE
ANALYSIS: Memphis has always had a premier defender for Durant. Remember Shane Battier from two years ago? Well, Prince has taken his place. And the former Pistons linchpin has proved to be up for the job. In 116 minutes with Prince on the court this season, Durant has shot just 39.3 percent and averaged three turnovers. In 51 minutes with Prince on the bench, Durant has shot 66.7 percent and committed just 0.5 turnovers on average. Durant's plus-minus in those splits: plus-6.5 when Prince sits and minus-0.7 when Prince is on the floor. Making things tougher on Durant will be going against the Grizzlies' stout defense without running mate Russell Westbrook on the floor to alleviate some of that attention. It will be a great challenge for Durant and fascinating to see how he fares.
4. POWER FORWARD
SERGE IBAKA VS. ZACH RANDOLPH
ANALYSIS: Ibaka has gotten better each season, adding a little more to his game every year. But the one skill he needs in this series he still lacks. That's post defense. Ibaka has been no match for Randolph on the low block. Randolph has averaged considerably more points, rebounds, assists, steals and blocked shots while shooting 16.7 percentage points higher when Ibaka is on the floor. The Thunder's best bet might be to cross-match the big men, switching Ibaka onto center Marc Gasol and Kendrick Perkins onto Zach Randolph. Perkins hasn't been able to stop Randolph, but he's generally made him work much harder for his points. The best thing Ibaka can do when he is on Randolph is to stay down on all ball fakes and play as physical as possible without getting into foul trouble.
KENDRICK PERKINS VS. MARC GASOL
ANALYSIS: After seeing his minutes dwindle in the previous series, Perkins now has a chance to again prove his worth. Add to that, the Thunder's big man recently was vocal in his belief that Gasol should not have won Defensive Player of the Year. If that's not enough motivation to string together a stellar series we don't know what is. Gasol, though, earned his recognition as a standout defender. He's considered the Grizzlies defensive anchor and the man who makes everything go. Gasol's also a tremendous passer and shooter, making him a tough cover as well. Some even consider the Spaniard the best center in basketball.
6. SIXTH MAN
KEVIN MARTIN VS. JERRYD BAYLESS
ANALYSIS: Martin had an up and down season in his first year with the Thunder and saw his first playoff appearance since 2006 get off to a disappointing start. He made just 30 percent of his shots in the first five games before erupting for 25 points in the series-clincher at Houston. That performance might ignite Martin. It might not. But this much is certain. The Thunder has got to have Martin step up against the Grizzlies defense. If he doesn't, this could be an extremely short series. Bayless, on the other hand, is blossoming into one of the best in the business off the bench. He averaged 11.4 points, 2.4 rebounds and 3.1 assists after the All-Star break, with all 29 of his games over that span coming as a reserve. He's an explosive combo guard who can shoot, slash and finish. Martin, however, has been a more potent scorer for much longer.
7. PERIMETER BENCH
ANALYSIS: For the Thunder, it's Martin, Derek Fisher and DeAndre Liggins. For the Grizzlies, it's Bayless, Quincy Pondexter and Keyon Dooling. It's a matchup that has the potential to swing momentum in each game. Neither side needs to be sensational, nor is it likely that either will be. Both benches ranked in the bottom third in scoring in the regular season. But there is ample skill and versatility on both sides to make a consistent impact. Thanks to Fisher, though, the Thunder just happens to have the experience advantage. Fisher's ability to raise his level of play in the postseason also tips the scale in favor of Oklahoma City.
8. INTERIOR BENCH
NICK COLLISON/HASHEEM THABEET VS. DARRELL ARTHUR/ED DAVIS
ANALYSIS: Arthur can be a handful with his athleticism, rebounding and shooting if the Thunder isn't careful. Davis is considerably less dangerous and barely played in his first playoff series against the Clippers. Thabeet, after playing only five minutes against the Rockets in his playoff debut, could be relied on much more in this series. But Collison is the key. He single-handedly gives the Thunder the advantage in this matchup for his ability to defend Zach Randolph. In fact, there might not be a better defender in the league against Randolph. After averaging just 15 minutes in the series with the Rockets, Collison might need to average nearly double that for the Thunder to have its best chance at stopping the Grizzlies' inside attack.
SCOTT BROOKS VS. LIONEL HOLLINS
ANALYSIS: Brooks has won twice as many playoff games — 28 to Hollins' 14 — and so on the surface it's hard to argue against what the Thunder coach has done. He's been at the helm for every second of Oklahoma City's success. Brooks has made the most of one of the league's most talented rosters, which in and of itself is difficult to do. He's helped develop All-Stars, a Sixth Man Award winner and the league's leading shot-blocker, all while keeping his players motivated to consistently perform at a high level. But these are the playoffs, where coaches rise and chess matches ensue. And Brooks is more motivator than tactician. Compare the coaches' playbooks, strategies, systems, in-game adjustment abilities and overall command of their respective teams and Hollins comes out on top.
10. HOME COURT
CHESAPEAKE ENERGY ARENA VS. FEDEX FORUM
ANALYSIS: Both buildings are among the toughest in basketball. Both seat just north of 18,000, and they both can get extremely hostile and extremely loud. The Thunder went 34-7 at home this season. The Grizzlies finished 32-9. And both teams have won plenty at the other's place. It's almost too close to call. But the Thunder wins by a hair. In the 25 meetings between the two teams, including the 2011 playoffs, Oklahoma City has held serve at home and gotten the better of the Grizzlies on the road. In the regular season, the Thunder has gone 5-4 against the Grizzlies both inside “The Peake” and inside the “Grind House.” OKC also is 3-1 at home against Memphis in the playoffs and 1-2 in the playoffs against the Grizzlies inside the FedExForum.
ANALYSIS: The Thunder has been dealt a huge blow with the season-ending knee injury to Russell Westbrook. OKC also got a scare from eighth-seeded Houston in the first round. Memphis, meanwhile, just dusted off the Los Angeles Clippers by winning four straight after trailing 2-0.
ANALYSIS: Only six of the Thunder's nine regular rotation players have a wealth of playoff experience. Westbrook going down dealt a blow, and Reggie Jackson and Kevin Martin are still postseason pups. Memphis, on the other hand, added Tayshaun Prince's championship experience in midseason and picked up sage guard Keyon Dooling (54 career playoff games) late in the season. But the Thunder still has Derek Fisher. His 235 career playoff games tend to tip the experience scale in the Thunder's favors against most opponents. For example, subtract Fisher and the Thunder's projected nine rotation players would bring 352 total games of playoff experience, 44 fewer than what Memphis' top nine own.