May 15, 2018
The number one seeded Houston Rockets led by MVP candidate James Harden take on the number two seeded Golden State Warriors led by their four headed all-stared monster. This is the matchup we wanted to see since all star Chris Paul was traded to Houston to give them the necessary star power to hopefully keep up with the Warriors. Game 1 is Monday, May 14, 2018 at 9 pm on TNT, and although at the beginning of the year, many viewed the Warriors as unbeatable, one trade by Houston (which involved almost a team of players, a draft pick, and money) and some injuries to Golden State left the NBA world to question if the Western Conference was actually up for grabs.
The Rockets first faced the Minnesota Timberwolves, and although they dropped one game, they looked to be who we thought they were, a high-octane offense that is going to continually hoist three pointers. But, one thing that we did learn is that they are also going to play defense. The second round showed a team who was defensively stingy, holding the Utah Jazz to under 100 points three out of the five games they played, and it is going to be near to impossible for any team to beat the Rockets if they are able to do so in the conference finals. It is also important to realize the 50-5 record the Rockets boast when James Harden, Chris Paul, and Clint Capela play together. These three allow the Rockets to be very versatile, going fast, slow, big or small, and even might let the Rockets dictate how they want to play the Warriors. With this in mind, Eric Gordon, Trevor Ariza, and Gerald Green are all giving very valuable minutes and are playing the best ball they have all season, although it may not show up in the statistics.
The Warriors first breezed over the San Antonio Spurs, and although the Pop-less and Kawhi-less Spurs gave a valiant effort all series long, they did not have enough to match the Curry-less Warriors. Their identity was lost for a moment without Curry playing, but once he came back in the second series versus the New Orleans Pelicans, we saw what the Warriors are truly capable of. As soon as Stephen Curry was inserted back into the lineup, we see the Warriors would not score less than 100 points in the series, and also the emergence of Klay Thompson was unleashed. This team is clicking all cylinders, and as a team who has been to the Western Conference final for the fourth season in a row, its hard to say that they aren’t a heavy favorite to win the series. All this being said, we haven’t talked about the unstoppable Kevin Durant, the flaming hot Klay Thompson, or the emotional leader in Draymond Green.
This matchup will be one of the most highly anticipated and watched series not only in this year of playoffs, but perhaps of all time. The starting lineups will be very interesting, because each team is trying to out scheme the other. We may see the Warriors use Kevon Looney to slow down a trending Capela, but maybe they go smaller and continue to start Andre Iguodala so they are able to use speed as an advantage. The individual matchups throughout the game is one aspect that could make or break each team. We already know that the stars in this series will play and shine, but the role players are going to be the difference in a series like this. We are going to have to see players like Shawn Livingston, Nick Young, Jordan Bell, Nene, Ryan Anderson, and P.J. Tucker to step up if they want to see their respective team to win. But, since both teams are extremely talented and deep, the game could come down to a couple of things: transition, turnovers, and screens. The Warriors need to dominate in transition basketball if they want to win this game, because Houston is a team that is spread out and constantly hounding the offensive glass with Capela. This can present a problem if they can get a body on Capela, because there will be no rim protection which will result in easy dunks and layups. Houston has been very good about not turning the ball over, and if they continue to do so, it will be hard for the Warriors to match the production of Houston’s offense even with the scoring ability they have. Screening is also one of the most important factors in this series, and this is because this is where Houston will try to get mismatches for Harden and Paul. Screening will also put the Warriors in an almost unstoppable pick and roll situation with Curry and Durant, and if any of the Rocket players help, the result could be three. In all, NBA fans should be more than excited to see one of the highest scoring, entertaining, and competitive Western Conference Finals that has ever been seen.
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