Make no mistake about it. The Golden State Warriors are gigantic favorites to beat the Houston Rockets in the Western Conference Finals, which get underway with Game 1 in Oakland tonight at 9 p.m. Eastern.
In fact, the team with the best record, and the best player of this season are heavily favored to sweep or send the Rockets fishing in five games. Rightfully, so. Golden State swept the four regular season games from Houston, and most were in dominant fashion. The Warriors are relatively healthy in comparison to the Rockets who are missing Patrick Beverley and Donatas Montiejunas. They’ve been nearly unbeatable at home, and of course have home court in this series.
With so few people giving the Rockets any chance to even be competitive in this series. What, if anything do the Rockets have to hang their hat on? Maybe, more than you think.
For starters, the Rockets aren’t supposed to be here. Prior to the season, some experts around the league predicted them to miss the playoffs altogether. Almost no one thought the Rockets could come from 3-1 down to defeat the Clippers. Yet, here they are. It’s very difficult to say there’s no pressure on them, or especially players like James Harden or Dwight Howard. Two players that have had their issues in past playoff appearances. However, the Rockets can probably play a little more loose than usual. That could be a slight advantage early in the series against a team that’s not all that experienced at playing this late in the season, at their own right.
Speaking of experience, five Rockets (Harden, Howard, Jason Terry, Corey Brewer, and Trevor Ariza) have NBA Finals experience. The latter three of those five have won a title. The only Finals experience for the Warriors would be from head coach Steve Kerr. May not be a huge deal in a series where one team seems to have a distinct advantage on the other, but it’s also not a bad luxury to have guys who have actually played on the NBA’s biggest stage. Wait a minute…. This isn’t the NBA Finals, though. It’s just the conference finals. Well, since you brought it up, only Golden State reserve guard Leandro Barbosa, has ever been to a conference finals.
Secondly, besides trying to match up with Steph Curry, which no team has had much success in doing, the Rockets don’t match up too badly otherwise. Harden, will probably draw Harrison Barnes, or Klay Thompson early on. But, Harden has improved defensively, and it wouldn’t be out of the question that he can be adequate defending either of them. One of the biggest reasons for the Warriors success has been Draymond Green. His knack for taking advantage of his quickness against larger power forwards has been huge. However, the Rockets’ Terrence Jones, and Josh Smith are capable of handling Green’s quickness. Speaking of Curry, the 37-year-olds Terry and Pablo Prigioni are going to have a tough time to say the least keeping up with him. Expect Kevin McHale to counter with Ariza or Brewer for stretches of time to help out. Curry is going to get his, but both are capable at making it a little tougher.
With all that said, it’s still very difficult to see the Rockets winning this series. The Warriors D will make things a lot harder on Harden than the Mavs and Clippers were able to do. Andrew Bogut, is a smarter defender than DeAndre Jordan, who Houston had lots of trouble with in the last round. Let’s not even talk about the Rockets lapses on defense against the NBA’s best offense. It could definitely get ugly. However, if there is anything to be said about experience, if they can keep their turnovers to a minimum, if Harden and Howard have special MVP level performances, and if those scenarios on defense play out in the Rockets favor, it could be an interesting series with the Rockets winning a couple of games. For a team that wasn’t supposed to be here. I don’t think that would be too bad……
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