1. Rebounding Margin
Oklahoma City has outrebounded Houston in all four matchups this season and holds a +9.5 rebound margin in those contests. That healthy margin has led to a lot of Houston one-and-done possessions which in turn lead to Thunder fast breaks.
The biggest reason for the wide gap is how well OKC's perimeter players crash the boards and how poorly Houston's do. For instance, in the four matchups so far this season, Russell Westbrook has averaged 7.8 boards while Kevin Durant has hauled in 6.8 rebounds per game. On the other hand, Jeremy Lin (3.5 rpg), Chandler Parsons (4.3 rpg) and James Harden (4.8 rpg) aren't giving Rockets' center Omer Asik enough help on the glass.
2. Houston Only Has Four Starters
Four-fifths of the Rockets' starting lineup has been pretty intact all year (Lin, Harden, Parsons and Asik); but the fifth starter spot, presumably the power forward position, has been a revolving door that has led to nothing.
In order, starting with the first matchup of the season back on Nov. 28 in OKC, here is a list of the forwards Houston has started against the Thunder:
Nov. 28 @Thunder: Patrick Patterson
Patterson scored 27 points and grabbed six boards in a strong performance for Houston. But he's no longer there, as the Rockets shipped him to Sacramento prior to the trade deadline.
Dec. 29 @Houston: Marcus Morris
Like Patterson, Morris balled hard, dropping 24 and six in his start against OKC, only to earn a trip out of town. Houston traded Morris to Phoenix in February for a future second-round pick.
Feb. 20 @Houston: Carlos Delfino
The Rockets went small in their only triumph over OKC this season, inserting the 6-foot-6 shooting guard into the starting lineup. Houston won in spite of Delfino's 3-12 shooting and the Rockets realized soon after than he's simply not an NBA starter.
First Round Game 1, April 21: Greg Smith
This guy went undrafted in 2011 out of Fresno State and has spent most of the past two seasons in the D-League. Apparently he's also Houston's new starting power forward, which is a really bad thing if you're a Rockets fan. Smith scored just six points Monday night and put together an incredibly bad -34 plus-minus in just 17 minutes of play.
At this point, coach Kevin McHale might consider suiting up. But since he won't and the Rockets decided to trade their only two capable power forwards, the rest of this series is essentially five-on-four basketball.
3. James Harden's Inefficiency
In Houston's only win against the Thunder this year, Harden shot an incredible 14-19 for 46 points. Houston won that game by just three. That gives you an idea of just how good Harden has to be for the Rockets to have any chance of winning.
In the other three meetings, games OKC has won by an average of 27 points per, Harden has struggled mightily. The Beard managed just 15-52 (28.8 percent) shooting in those contests and missed double-digit shots in all three games –misses that led to Thunder fast-break opportunities and easy buckets.
It's a tough spot for Harden. He wants to be a team player but he knows his surrounding talent isn't close to what it was back in OKC, so sometimes a forced jumper is the best shot his team can get.
One thing is for sure: If Harden keeps shooting 28 percent, this series won't last more than four games.
4. Bench Scoring
If you're a team (like Houston) that only has four capable starters, you should probably have a decent bench. Oops.
In the four meetings with OKC this season, Houston has had a total of three individual double-figure scoring performances off their bench. Two came Monday night, as Delfino and Patrick Beverly scored 10 and 11 points, respectively, in extended mop-up minutes. The other came on Dec. 29, when Toney Douglas scored 17 on 6-13 shooting. But surprise, surprise, Houston traded Douglas to the Kings.
Speaking of, perhaps Houston would like to give Thomas Robinson a shot at the power forward position, seeing as they traded half the roster for him at the deadline. Despite the massive blowout, Robinson received a "DNP-Coaches Decision" Monday night.
Anyway, back to the point. Oklahoma City's bench has the benefit of Kevin Martin, who has dropped an average of 16.8 points on Houston this season and hasn't totaled fewer than 15 in any of the four meetings. Martin's consistency, along with the emergence of Reggie Jackson, the shooting of Derek Fisher and Nick Collison's solid contributions (eight points per game against Houston this year) are way too much for the Rockets' second unit to match.
The difference in bench production is staggering. The Thunder's backups have averaged 37.8 points per game against Houston, while the Rockets' backups have only managed just 23 points per game – a 14.8 ppg difference.
5. Jeremy Lin & Omer Asik
I realize not all players are supposed to score; different guys fill different roles. But when your team defense is allowing 120 points per game to the opponent, you've got to find points in a lot of places to keep up.
Because the Rockets already have no quality fifth starter and a severe disadvantage off the bench, they're already low on places to find points. That's why the lack of offensive production from Lin and Asik is something Houston can't afford.
In Houston's three losses to OKC, Lin simply hasn't gotten it done. In 32.3 minutes per game, Lin is averaging just 5.7 points and 6.3 assists. By comparison, his counterpart (Westbrook) has averaged 20.3 points and nine assists in those matchups.
Then look inside, where Asik's rebounding and rim protection has anchored Houston's defense all season. But if the Rockets really want to try and keep up with OKC, Asik must step his scoring up. In the three losses to the Thunder, his 7.3 points per game leaves plenty to be desired.
No matter which way you look at it, Houston can't keep up. The fast-paced style is fun and the Harden reunion makes for a great storyline, but this thing will be over in no more than five games.