Way Out West- Western Conference Semifinals Update

#1 Warriors vs. #4 Rockets Series Tied 2-2

We knew that this series was bound to give us everything we asked for and more. A repeat of last year’s Conference Finals held the promise of high drama, and we haven’t been disappointed. After two quick wins by Golden State in Oakland, Houston has found a way to counter-punch, winning game three in overtime and outlasting the champs in game four as Kevin Durant and Stephen Curry both missed three-pointers that would have tied the game with just seconds remaining. But in the playoffs, a win is a win, and now it’s a three-game series with a trip to the Conference Finals on the line. Houston has swung the pendulum with these two close wins, but has it swung enough to squeeze out one of the two remaining tilts in the Bay? James Harden is doing what he does, averaging over thirty-one points per game and making about 35% of his three-pointers, but he’s being outplayed by Kevin Durant, who has averaged over thirty-five points per game and is hitting three-pointer with far greater efficiency. And perhaps that’s the problem for Golden State. Steph Curry just hasn’t looked like himself since early in the first round, when Kevin Durant’s struggles were the hot topic. Everyone knows that for the Warriors to really play their brand of basketball, ball movement and transition threes from Curry and Klay Thompson are the key. Durant’s higher-than-normal usage rate (he ranks behind only Harden and Antetokounmpo during the playoffs) means, put simply, that the Warriors aren’t playing like the Warriors. While Durant’s performances have been phenomenal, it seems that they’re coming at the expense of letting the Splash Brothers catch fire. I expect the Warriors to return to that formula in game five.

#2 Nuggets vs. #3 Trail Blazers Series Tied 2-2

If there’s a portion of the country who thought for some reason that this Nuggets/Blazers series would be a snooze-fest, game three sure woke them up. After splitting the first two games in Denver, game three caught everyone’s attention with a quadruple-overtime nail-biter that saw the Trail Blazers take a 2-1 series lead with a 140-137 win. As much as Portland is Damian Lillard’s team, he’s got a pretty damn good running mate in C.J. McCollum, the game three hero who poured in forty-one points and played a whopping sixty minutes. Lillard and the Blazers will benefit greatly from a more balanced attack from their backcourt, and these two smaller guys are definitely the best chance that Portland has to neutralize the big-guy problem that is Nikola Jokic. The big man is averaging just under a triple double this postseason, and his twenty-five PPG are coming from all over the court. Jokic can provide points in the paint and a big body defensively, but it’s his ability to shoot from distance (40.9% from beyond the three-point line) and pass the ball (9.3 assists per game) that make him a matchup nightmare. Add in the improved play of point guard Jamal Murray, and the Nuggets look poised to be extremely competitive for the next several years. But can they put away the Trail Blazers to advance to the finals? I think they can. Portland has already gotten a win in Denver…I don’t think they’ll
manage get a second one.

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