CENTER: Hakeem Olajuwon vs. Patrick Ewing
All-Star matchup that has been a big-time mismatch this season. In the two Houston wins over New York, Olajuwon shot 53.1 percent, averaging 33.0 points and 16.5 rebounds. Ewing ++ shot 25.7 percent, averaging 12.0 points and 9.5 rebounds.
Olajuwon's advantage is his quickness, with a large arsenal of offensive moves that frustrate Ewing. He's also a good passer when double-teamed, which the Knicks did in their second meeting this season.
To be successful, Ewing will need to duplicate his 24-point, 22-rebound effort on Sunday against Indiana. And that's quite a bit to ask against the NBA's top defender and Most Valuable Player.
POWER FORWARD: Otis Thorpe vs. Charles Oakley This is another matchup that will be decided by quickness. Thorpe's swiftness allows him to fill the lane on the break, but he also has muscled his way to 12.3 points and 9.3 rebounds during the playoffs.
"He's another hard-working power forward that doesn't get enough credit," Oakley said of Thorpe.
Oakley's not quick, and he lacks jumping ability. He also averaged just five points against the Rockets in the two games this season. But, despite his sore left ankle, he has been effective in the playoffs.
SMALL FORWARD: Robert Horry vs. Charles Smith In February, Horry's tentativeness got him traded. The Rockets were unhappy with his lack of aggressiveness in shooting the ball, so they dealt him to the Detroit Pistons for Sean Elliott.
But the deal was rescinded after Elliott failed his physical, and Horry got a second chance in Houston. "I had a tendency to kick it to [Olajuwon] and Otis and watch them work," Horry said. "I wasn't taking my shot. Now when I have the open shot, I have to take it."
And he's doing it to the tune of 12.3 points in the playoffs, where he has hit 43.5 percent of his three-pointers -- helping open the middle for Olajuwon.
New York's Smith is not a true small forward, and it shows. At 6 feet 10, he has been a huge nonfactor.
SHOOTING GUARD: Vernon Maxwell vs. John Starks Maxwell and Starks are emotional players, streak shooters and decent defenders. Maxwell is a better outside shooter, often getting easy three-point attempts when Olajuwon is double-teamed. Starks, coming off knee surgery, has gotten stronger during the playoffs and played well at both ends of the court against the Pacers.
POINT GUARD: Kenny Smith vs. Derek Harper Smith has sparked the outside game during the playoffs, hitting percent of his three-pointers. But he faces a good defender in Harper, whose defense and key baskets helped New York's second-half comeback against the Pacers on Sunday.
Turnovers will be key, with the sometimes-erratic Smith doing a good job protecting the ball during the playoffs (1.2 turnovers per game).
Harper seemed to sense how valuable he is to the Knicks' attack toward the end of the Indiana series, when he became a more aggressive player.
Edge: New York
The Rockets get a big boost with the return of 6-9 forward Carl Herrera, who missed all of the conference finals with a dislocated right shoulder. But this is where the Rockets are hurting, with much of their bench production coming from former Dunbar star Sam Cassell (9.1 points, team-high 4.9 assists in the playoffs) and Mario Elie. Should their frontcourt get into foul trouble, the Rockets will be vulnerable.
Anthony Mason, Greg Anthony and Hubert Davis are the key reserves for the Knicks and have played well at times. Mason is a bruising 6-7 forward who might see some time against Olajuwon if Ewing gets in foul trouble.
dge: New York.
New York, getting beyond the ugliness that marred its conference semifinal series with Chicago, proved it can play basketball and win a crucial game on the road in the Indiana series. The Knicks, because of Houston's inactivity, just might be able to sneak into The Summit and steal Game 1, which, in the 2-3-2 format, could work to their benefit.
Pick: New York in six.