The young Houston Rockets have proven they can learn on the fly. After finding themselves on the negative side of a a 29-point blowout by the Oklahoma City Thunder in Game 1, the point differential over the next three games stands at a total of just four in the Thunder's favor.
Kevin McHale's team finally found itself on the winning end of the three close games by taking Game 4, 105-103. In the end, the Thunder will take flak because Kevin Durant carried them with 38 points and they still lost. But it was the Rockets' offense, and by relation Oklahoma City's defense, that might be the biggest question mark coming into Wednesday's Game 5 in Chesapeake Energy Arena.
Can the Thunder slow down Chandler Parsons?
Ever since McHale made one starting lineup change in Game 2 that slid Parsons to the power forward spot, he's been nothing but excellent. Two assists shy of a triple-double in Game 4, he was everything Houston needed to win despite a 10-turnover, 4-of-12 shooting game from James Harden. While Thunder coach Scott Brooks might be unwilling to change his starting lineup, he'll have to find a way to run Parsons off the 3-point stripe all while preventing the versatile forward from making the extra pass to the open man.
Attacking Parsons on Oklahoma City's offensive end might help tire him. So will sending more bodies at the Rockets forward -- and physical ones at that.
Will Omer Asik and the Rockets win the paint battle?
While the Rockets succeeded in Game 4 with hot 3-point shooting, they still scored 44 points in the paint and held Oklahoma City to 22. And despite getting up 27 shots from deep, they also got looks for Asik in the paint. With Kendrick Perkins giving the Thunder nine minutes of playing time last time out, how he and Asik match up early will be important.
Asik has a favorable size advantage when Perkins is out, and he scored 17 points on 7-for-10 shooting in 38 minutes played as Perkins rode the bench. Going to this mismatch -- or the Thunder stopping it -- could change the game, and doing getting the big man looks will also open up 3-point shots for Houston.
Who makes the key stops?
Maybe this won't be an issue. The Thunder could run the Rockets out of their very loud home court, but as the last three games have gone, getting stops down the stretch is the overly-simplistic -- but necessary -- key to a victory. Houston did that in Game 4, contesting Reggie Jackson at the rim after getting the ball out of Kevin Durant's hands. Sure, they survived a short-arm by Serge Ibaka on a last-second put-back attempt, but luck is part of these sort of things.
The Thunder won the second and third games of this series with defense stops during keys moments. As this first round matchup has gone, it might come down to that once again.
Time: 9:30 p.m. ET
Odds: Oklahoma City opened as an 8.5-point favorite.