April 12, 2013; Portland, OR, USA; Oklahoma City Thunder small forward Kevin Durant (35) reacts to a play during the fourth quarter of the game against the Portland Trail Blazers at the Rose Garden. The Thunder won the game 106-90. Mandatory Credit: Steve Dykes-USA TODAY Sports

NBA Western Conference Playoff Predictions: #1 Oklahoma City Thunder v. #8 Houston Rockets

Houston’s got some problems. After squirreling away enough assets to make a move for supposedly available major star after major star and repeatedly coming up short, this season they finally plucked James Harden from the Thunder. He delivered to the tune of 26 points, 6 assists, 5 rebound, 2 steals in a super-expanded role, upping his shots from 10 to 17, attempted 3s from 4.5 to over 6, free throws from 5 a game to over 10 — and with less than a percentage point differential from any of his career shooting percentages.

The problem for the Rockets is they slid hard from the 6th seed to the 8th. With losses to Washington, Sacramento, Milwaukee, Dallas and 2 out of 3 to the Phoenix freaking Suns they shot themselves repeatedly in the foot over the final couple months of the season to wind up in a fated matchup against the league’s 2nd winningest team instead of a track meet with the Denver Nuggets or a crack at the (seemingly) snake-bitten San Antonio Spurs.

Thunder probable starting lineup:

PG Russell Westbrook

SG Thabo Sefolosha

SF Kevin Durant

PF Serge Ibaka

C Kendrick Perkins

The same team that asked Harden to take a pay cut decided they would rather spend part of his contract on Kendrick Perkins — who is costing the Thunder 7.8, 8.4 and 9.1 million this year until 2015. Call Sam Presti a genius again and I’ll puke.

Rockets probable starting lineup:

PG Jeremy Lin

SG James Harden

SF Chandler Parsons

PF Donatas Motiejunas

C Omer Asik

Motiejunas plays 12 minutes a night giving way to either a small lineup with Carlos Delfino sliding Parsons to power forward, or uber-efficient Greg Smith, but either way, the Rockets like to shoot 3s. Delfino and Harden put up more than 6 a game. Parsons attempts more than 5. As a team, they had the 2nd most attempts in the league with the 9th best accuracy, 36.6%. They also gave up the 3rd most points in the league. No secrets in Houston, they spread you out, get to the rim and shoot 3s.

Because Houston likes to go small, it’s ironic that OKC could be forced to sit Perkins to match up or  watch Ibaka’s biggest contribution — his weakside defense — be rendered moot by forcing him to cover a 3 point shooter… like Harden.

Houston’s coach, Kevin McHale was dealt a tough blow when Dork Elvis traded away most of his frontcourt options for seldom-used rookie Thomas Robinson. It will be fun watching McHale try and match up with OKC and their own tendency to go small, but that’s about all the fun that will be had as Houston doesn’t have enough lift to get over — blah blah blah NASA pun blah blah.

Prediction: Thunder in 5.

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Tags: Chandler Parsons Houston Rockets James Harden Jeremy Lin Kevin Durant Kevin McHale Nba Playoff Predictions Nba Playoffs Oklahoma City Thunder Omer Asik Russell Westbrook Serge Ibaka

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