The Houston Rockets had their best regular season in franchise history with an NBA best 65 wins this season. With home court advantage for the entire postseason, the top seeded Rockets went on to breeze by the Minnesota Timberwolves and the Utah Jazz in Rounds 1 and 2.
The Rockets are now just four wins away from making their first NBA Finals appearance since 1995. But this is when the playoffs really begin for them. Historically, 15 of 20 teams who have won 65+ regular season games have gone on to win the NBA title. But for the Rockets, history won’t be a guarantee, especially against the defending NBA champions.
The Golden State Warriors struggled to finish the season after losing two time MVP Stephen Curry to a knee injury. But since Curry’s return in Game 2 of the Warriors’ second round series against the New Orleans Pelicans, the Warriors have never looked better. Except for the Game 3 loss to the Pelicans, Curry is as good as ever.
For the Warriors to win though, they must do so in unfamiliar fashion – without home court advantage in the Western Conference Finals. Given their playoff experience, that isn’t going to be a problem. But if this year’s leading MVP candidate James Harden can finally get it going in this series, it’s not going to be a walk in the park for the Dubs.
They say the Rockets were built to beat the Warriors. After a long 82 game season, we’re about to find out if that is correct. Many believe that the winner of this series will go on to win the NBA title and most agree that this match-up should have been the NBA Finals itself, if not for the East-West conference separation.
Regardless, it promises to be an explosive series with the NBA’s two best offenses going at each other in a Western Conference shootout. Check out the odds, our preview and pick for Game 1 of the 2018 Western Conference Finals.
Among the players left in the Conference Finals, James Harden ranks 2nd to LeBron James ( 32.7 points per game ) in playoff scoring with his 28.5 points per game average. And to think that Harden’s been struggling to shoot in the postseason at just 40.7% from the field as compared to 44.9% during the regular season, he’s truly an offensive machine you can’t stop.
While Harden has struggled with his shots, Chris Paul was sizzling in Round 2 for the Rockets. The point god averaged 24.6 points per game against the Jazz and waxed hot with his 44.1% three point shooting during that series. In fact, Paul was a surprise, making more three pointers per game ( 3.0 ) than Harden ( 2.6 ). For the Rockets to beat the Warriors, CP3 must keep this pace.
The key to the Rockets’ offense though, should be Eric Gordon finding his shooting touch.. The NBA’s reigning sixth man of the year averaged 18.0 points per game during the regular season. But Gordon’s scoring averaged has dipped to 12.9 points per game during the playoffs and he is shooting just 34.2% from the field and 31.4% from behind the three point line.
For the Warriors, none of their Big 3 is shooting below 45% from the floor in the playoffs and it’s safe to say that they are clicking on all cylinders right now. Kevin Durant’s 28.0 points per game average is just a shade off Harden’s production so they should cancel each other out.
Steph Curry is averaging 24.5 points per game in just 31 minutes of action. That’s because Curry is making 3.8 three pointers per game on a 44.1% accuracy. If the Rockets want to slow the Warriors down, it’s obvious that it’s Curry not Durant who they want to slow down. In the Warriors only loss with Curry in the current postseason, Steph was held down to 19 points on 6-19 shooting.
After torching the San Antonio Spurs in Round 1, Klay Thompson cooled off in the second round but he still managed to average 19.9 points per game against the Pelicans. If Harden gets hot for the Rockets, Klay needs to find his groove too if the Warriors want to keep up with the high powered Rockets.
Given these teams’ offensive prowess, you might think that this is purely going to be an old fashioned western shootout between the top two offenses in the NBA. The Rockets lead the playoffs in offensive efficiency at 111.1 points per 100 possessions. Meanwhile, the Warriors aren’t far behind at #3 at 108.8 points per 100 possessions.
But perhaps not many know that these teams are also the two best defensive teams in the current postseason. Golden State is the only team not to allow 100 points per 100 possessions with their playoff leading 99.3 The Rockets are ranked number 2 at 102.1 points per 100 possessions.
Clint Capela is the the Rockets’ defensive anchor as he’s improved his regular season rebounding and shot blocking to 12.2 board and 2.8 blocks per game. For the Warriors, it’s going to be Draymond Green who averaged a triple double against the Pelicans in Round 2 for the Warriors.
The Rockets outscored their playoff opponents by 13.2 points per game from three pointers. But given Golden State’s own three point arsenal, that advantage is eliminated. The Rockets also love to play one on one with their two stars with isolation plays accounting for 14.1% of their total possession. With Golden State having lockdown defenders like Andre Iguodala and Klay Thompson, it’s going to be interesting how Harden and Paul are going to get their iso points in this round.
What makes Golden State very dangerous at this point is that Kevin Durant is only shooting 27.9% from behind the three point line in the playoffs. KD shot 41.9% of his three balls during the regular season. If he gets going here, it’s going to be a major problem for the Houston Rockets.
The Rockets won their regular series 2-1 but this is the playoffs and if the Warriors looked vulnerable during the regular season, they have looked near invincible again in the playoffs. Stephen Curry is such a game changer. If he stays healthy, the Warriors will be tough to beat, even on the road.
Both are equally high powered offensive teams but the Warriors have the stoppers to guard Harden and Paul. If Houston can’t contain Durant, he’s taking over. And that’s not even counting Curry’s presence. Warriors are much loaded and have much more playoff experience here that home court may not be an advantage in the series. Look for the Warriors to show who is boss in Game 1. We’re picking the Golden State Warriors to win at Houston in Game 1.
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