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2013 NBA Playoffs: Oklahoma City Thunder vs Houston Rockets, Game 4 Preview

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Even after the Russell Westbrook injury, I never thought I would have this much anticipation heading into Game 4. But that anticipation doesn't stem from excitement. It stems from major concern.

William Bennett Berry
2012-2013 NBA PLAYOFFS!
The Houston Rockets (45-37)
The Oklahoma City Thunder (60-22)
April 29th, 2013
The Toyota Center, Houston, Texas
8:30 PM Central Daylight Time
Turner Network Television, Fox Sports Network Oklahoma, Comcast Sports Network Houston
WWLS the Sports Animal (98.1), SportsTalk 790
Enemy Blogs: The Dream Shake, Red94
Playoffs: Game 1, Game 2, Game 3 (Thunder Lead Series 3-0)
Regular Season Series: Nov 28th, Dec 29th, Feb 20 (Thunder won Season Series 2-1)
Injury Report: Russell Westbrook (Out), Jeremy Lin (Questionable)
Probable Starters
Reggie Jackson PG Jeremy Lin or Patrick Beverley
Thabo Sefolosha SG Patrick Beverley or James Harden
Kevin Durant SF James Harden or Chandler Parsons
Serge Ibaka PF Chandler Parsons or Greg Smith
Kendrick Perkins C Omer Asik or Omer Asik

Even after the Russell Westbrook injury, I never thought I would have this much anticipation heading into Game 4. But that anticipation doesn't stem from excitement. It stems from major concern. Sure, I'm excited to see more playoff basketball, and I'll be happy if the Thunder win. But even though they won last night, it appears the team has more issues than it can shake a fist at.

I've already scratched the surface on the myriad of issues in my article about Scott Brooks' coaching failure. Basically, I made the argument that Kevin Durant can't be a 48 minute point guard, and that the Thunder need to go big in order to win. And J.A. Sherman has provided an effective counter-point, offering that Scott Brooks had to let Kevin Durant try and fail in order to gain his trust.

All I really know is that while Scott Brooks is extremely poor at in-game adjustments, he's excellent at game-to-game adjustments. And I'm really hoping that he knows how to get other ball handlers involved in the offense.

But, let's shove the Thunder's problems to the side for a moment. How are the Rockets doing?

Well, Jeremy Lin is still suffering with a chest injury, and is questionable for tonight's game. But whether he plays or not is pretty irrelevant at this point. He's been a total non-factor for the entirety of the series, in terms of both scoring and distribution. James Harden and Patrick Beverley are the defacto ballhandlers now, and the Rockets are no worse for the wear.

Their strategy, which was adjusted after Game 1, will likely remain the same. Omer Asik and Greg Smith will be the lone big men, while Francisco Garcia will see minutes instead of Terrence Jones. If Lin doesn't play, veteran Aaron Brooks will likely see minutes as well. Basically, they'll not only attempt to push the pace while the Thunder are big, but they'll also try to spread the floor with an array of three point options and force the Thunder to go small, so they can compete in the rebounding category.

In terms of defensive strategy, the Rockets saw an interesting, but crucial shift from Game 2 to Game 3. In Game 2, they focused on protecting the paint. It was a smart strategy, especially with Kevin Martin, the Thunder's primary long-range option, playing so poorly. They were so adamant about protecting the paint that they actually went to a 2-3 Zone, and it worked really effectively, killing all of the Thunder's ball movement. (See Coach Nick's excellent breakdown.)

But with Russell Westbrook out in Game 3, the Rockets definitely made a turn towards defensive pressure. It's much like the defense they used against OKC in the regular season. Basically, they'll crowd the ballhandler (Durant) and try to force him into a bad shot or turnover. This means leaving certain guys open, but when the Thunder's ball movement is so poor, the effect isn't really felt. In the past, the tactic wouldn't work because Durant and Westbrook could always find each other, but with the Thunder only utilizing one scoring option and one ballhandler, they became much easier to pressure.

In any case, I'm of the opinion that it doesn't matter what the Rockets do, as long as the Thunder accomplish 3 of 4 things.

1. Establish More Than One Ballhandler. KD is not a point guard, and he shouldn't handle the ball 24/7.

2. Play Kevin Durant no more than 40 minutes.

3. Establish a secondary scorer. Make an effort to get Ibaka and Martin really in the game.

4. Play big and dominate the boards.

Still, given how bad last night's collapse was, I'm skeptical that the Thunder will be able to accomplish even one of those. But I know Scott Brooks can make mid-series adjustments, and I'm sure he's going to try at least something different tonight. At least, I hope.

Prediction: Oklahoma City Thunder 104, Houston Rockets 94.

If you are looking for tickets to upcoming games, you can find Oklahoma City Thunder tickets here.