James Harden is having an MVP-level season leading the his team to the third best record (55-27) in the NBA. But, his biggest test is yet to come. The Houston Rockets vs San Antonio Spurs Western Conference Semifinal has a chance to be a fantastic series. One for the ages. Is The Beard ready to prove he belongs in the elite group of players with LeBron James, and Kawhi Leonard?
Speaking of Kawhi Leonard, the Spurs’ superstar is playing MVP-level hoops in his own right. Widely looked at now as the second-best player in the game, Leonard is clearly the go-to-man for San Antonio. But, is he ready to shoulder the load for a Spurs team that’s not nearly as deep off the bench as they’ve been in years past?
While, this series is headlined by two MVP candidates, it’s the ‘others’ that are likely going to decide the outcome. Let’s take a quick look at those ‘others’ and the keys for each team to win this crucial series…..
2. SPURS vs 3. ROCKETS
Season Series: Spurs 3-1
It’s a good Ole Texas rivalry with two MVP candidates battling it out. That’s a recipe for a solid 5 of 5 on the new Sports & Swag SwagFactor index.
Rockets keys to winning….
It’s pretty simple. Take care of the basketball and shoot it well enough to win. Sounds simple, but it’s not. Harden, and the Rockets still turn the ball over a bit too much for me. And, thats a recipe for disaster against a team like San Antonio. The Spurs take advantage of your miscues like no other team does. The Rockets must cut down on the number of easy baskets the Spurs get. Good shooting and few turnovers are the key.
The Rockets also have to limit those crazy two to five minute lapses they seemingly have once or twice every game. Finding someone to guard Lamarcus Aldridge is also essential. What Kawhi does offensively won’t look as great if everyone else is held in check. Basically, get the mental aspect right and the Rockets have a good shot to win this series.
Rockets X-Factor: Ryan Anderson
The Rockets’ forward has to shoot the ball better than he shot it in the OKC series. He also will be very important in trying to keep Lamarcus Aldridge quiet.
Spurs keys to winning….
Do what the Spurs do. San Antonio is so much stronger mentally than most teams. With the aging of some of their key players and lack of depth in certain areas, their strong mentality is more important than ever.
Also, the scoring from anyone else not named Kawhi Leonard. Danny Green and Patty Mills will probably have more open looks against Houston. But, they must knock them down. That would take a lot of pressure off not only Kawhi, but more importantly Tony Parker.
Spurs X-Factor: Lamarcus Aldridge
It may seem crazy to call a Aldridge the X-Factor, but he really is. Aldridge, should have a big advantage over Houston’s bigs. He must make them pay. If Aldridge has a subpar series, the Spurs could be in Big trouble.
This very well could be a series too close to call. A seven game series. The contrast of styles in this series may not be as huge as most think. Houston is fully capable of playing half court basketball with Harden getting to the free throw line, Nene being strong around the rim and guards like Eric Gordon and Lou Williams that can get their own shot.
The Rockets in my opinion are top to bottom the more talented team. However, talent alone doesn’t win championships. Mental toughness is a key ingredient. That’s something the Rockets haven’t had. They still may not have the mentality of the Spurs, but what they do have is a lot more than years in the past. Still, these are the Spurs, and their mental toughness will be tough to match.
However, with Patrick Beverley leading the way, the Rockets, while still not great are much better defensively. Their defense isn’t good enough to shut teams down, but it is good enough to get key stops in crunch time. That may not be good news for an older Spurs team that’s struggled at times offensively, more than any Spurs team I can remember. This series could go either way. If, there’s a Game 7, the Spurs will win. But, something tells me…..ROCKETS in 6….