James Harden, far left, and Jeremy Lin, second from left, will clash with All-Stars Kevin Durant, second from right, and Russell Westbrook, far right, when the Houston Rockets host the Oklahoma City Thunder Wednesday at 8 p.m. EST. (Photo : Reuters)
The NBA All-Star Game has come and gone, and now it's back to work for James Harden, Jeremy Lin and the Houston Rockets.
Now, three nights removed from the All-Star Game spectacle, the Rockets (29-26) look to start their push towards the playoffs in the second half of the season off strong, but to do that, they're going to have to go through league-leading scorer Kevin Durant, All-Star Russell Westbrook and the Oklahoma City Thunder (39-14) Wednesday at the Toyota Center in Houston, Texas.
The Rockets have not done well against the Thunder, getting blown out by OKC in both of their last two games. In their most recent contest on Dec. 29, Westbrook and Durant combined for 54 points as the Thunder crushed Houston 124-94 at the Toyota Center. Harden scored 25 points but struggled from the field with 6-of-17 shooting while Houston gave up 32 points on 24 turnovers.
Heading into the final game of their season series, The Thunder are shooting a combined 50.8 percent against the Rockets while limiting Houston to 40.6 percent from the field.
Can Harden and Lin lead the Rockets to a win against an opponent them could very well face in the first round of the playoffs? Or will Durant and Westbrook help make it a clean sweep for the season against Houston? We'll find out Wednesday at 8 p.m.
Latinos Post breaks down the key matchups for tonight's game:
Power Forward: Patrick Patterson, Rockets vs. Serge Ibaka, Thunder
Patterson comes into Wednesday's contest averaging 14.6 points in the last five games, but his production has declined in the last two games before the break, where he only scored 12 points. However, he's had reliable production against OKC, scoring 14.5 points on their defense in both of their last meetings.
Ibaka, second in the league in blocked shots, has been doing more than just play defense against the Rockets, averaging 16.0 points with 9.5 rebounds and 3.5 blocks in their season series. He's been a key cog for the defending Western Conference champions all season, and if he gets going on Wednesday, the Thunder will make it three in a row over Houston.
Center: Omer Asik, Rockets vs. Kendrick Perkins, Thunder
Asik was solid for the Rockets all through the first half with double figures in both scoring and rebounding, his 11.5 rebounds this season the third-highest boards total in the league. He's in for a war in the paint, however, against Perkins, a very physical defender who can be a pain to try and score against in the paint. If Perkins can keep the paint closed and not allow the Rockets to penetrate, OKC will be rolling to another blowout. It will be Asik's job to find a way to box him out.
Small Forward: Chandler Parsons, Rockets, vs. Kevin Durant, Thunder
Parsons has had a difficult time against Oklahoma City, shooting only 38.5 percent with 10.0 points in their last two contests. Durant, on the other hand, has had a party against the Rockets, one of the NBA's worst-ranked defenses, netting 31.5 points against Houston for the season.
Durant, the scoring leader in the NBA, is the most feared scorer in the league not named LeBron James or Kobe Bryant. If he gets hot, it could be lights out in Houston. Parsons will have to really hone up and try to contest Durant's shots, perhaps with a little help from Patterson on the perimeter.
Shooting guard: James Harden, Rockets vs. Thabo Sefolosha, Thunder
Sefolosha has done a very good job in helping to limit Harden's production to only 21.0 points in this series. Which doesn't sound like such a great job, but considering how explosive Harden can be, that's remarkable. However, it would be foolish to count out the Rockets' All-Star and one of the most hellacious scorers in the game this season Wednesday night. Harden's coming off a night where he scored 15 points on Sunday in the All-Star Game in Houston. Coming back to the same arena on Wednesday, Harden should be coming in all systems go.
Point guard: Jeremy Lin, Rockets vs. Russell Westbrook, Thunder
In what should be the match-up of the night, Lin, who is averaging 15.4 points in his last 10 games, hasn't fared well against Oklahoma City, scoring a mere 6.5 points on 40 percent shooting, though he does have 7.5 assists. All-Star Westbrook, who has been phenomenal all year, has torched Lin for 21.0 points and 8.5 assists in their last two meetings. Durant will get his shots, nobody can stop that, but Lin and Harden will have to double down on Westbrook to keep him from penetrating. Lin will have only one more chance to show what he can do against the Thunder. Will he make it count?
Kevin Martin has been torturing his old team, notching 18.0 points off the bench against the Rockets this season. Reggie Jackson will provide steady minutes and Nick Collison adds in solid defense and a pinch of offensive flair off the bench to make Oklahoma City's bench look pretty good.
The Rockets counter with Carlos Delfino, who has a nice shooter's touch, but has dropped off slightly in the last five games, averaging only 8.5 points on 35.3 percent shootimg. Toney Douglas had a big game off the bench for Houston against Oklahoma City last time with 17 points. If he and Greg Smith can provide some stable support, Houston might have a chance.
Game time, TV Schedule, Live Score
Game time starts at 8 p.m. Wednesday, EST on CSN Houston. Live score is available via TV Companion, here.
Live Streaming for the Game is can be seen via NBA League Pass. (Service Sign=Up Required)