Way Out West- Conference Finals Preview

Houston Rockets vs. Golden State Warriors

So here we go, exactly as anticipated, Houston vs. Golden State in the Western Conference Finals. I’m not going to say that I told you so, but there was considerable inevitability to this matchup. Just like the East, where LeBron’s Cavaliers wait for their opponent from last year, the Celtics, to polish off the Sixers. For more on that, check in with Nina’s Eastern Conference Coverage here. This Western Conference Finals matchup will be a little different this year for one reason. This Rockets team was built to do one thing, and one thing only; keep up with the Golden State Warriors. They might be able to do it, too. They admittedly obsess over it in the front office. They try not to say it out loud when asked, but the players, too, have Golden State on the brain. All season long, the Rockets have raced up the court and heaved up threes at an unprecedented pace, fulfilling coach Mike D’Antoni’s vision. James Harden and Chris Paul are both completely sold on the concept. Lots of isolations, fast shots, and stiff defense from role players make the Rockets the most formidable challenge these Warriors will face since they were assembled several years back.

There’s just one problem.

The Rockets are still chasing.

These Rockets would be the perfect team to challenge the pre-KD Warriors. Or a version without Steph Curry. It would have been a fair fight. But this year, the Warriors getting back to full strength and finding their swagger against a tough Pelicans team has them raring to get back to the finals for the fourth straight season. KD, Steph, Draymond and Klay share the ball so effortlessly, and so completely, that there are no tendencies to attack. The Warriors are always at the top of the assists leaderboard, and this year’s playoffs are no exception. They’re averaging almost thirty assists per game, almost ten higher than the Rockets, who thrive on more planned isolation schemes. Andre Igoudala has raised his game and become the elite defender that we remember from previous years, and Draymond Green is the most versatile
defensive player on the planet right now. He’s the reigning defensive player of the year for a reason. Klay Thompson is a wildly underrated defensive player and his length and quickness will likely give Chris Paul fits.

That’s the secret to this Warriors run of excellence. Do they shoot the ball well? Yes. But it’s the defense that forms the bedrock of this unit. Scoring in transition off of turnovers and making one more pass to get the best look. That’s what separates the Warriors from the pack now. It takes a superhuman effort combined with a patch of bad shooting to beat them.

I think this series carries some intrigue. Harden and CP3 will each have a statement game that goes their way, but over a seven game series, they don’t have enough balance to come away with the series. Warriors in six.

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