It’s the matchup everyone wanted to see, and now it’s a reality as the irresistible force will collide with the immovable object when the reigning champion Golden State Warriors tip off against the top gun in the NBA this season, the Houston Rockets. Game 1 of the Western Conference Finals is Monday in Houston.
Clash of the Titans
This is the marquee matchup that the fans, as well as the league brass, desperately wanted and the only thing that would surpass it is if this series determined the NBA title and not the conference crown. Ironically, even the loser of this Western Conference Finals clash would be favored over whichever team emerges from the East. The Rockets are 2-1 both straight up and against the spread vs. Golden State this season, with their last meeting being held on Jan. 20 in which Houston claimed a 116-108 victory at the Toyota Center.
Golden State will trot out a veritable All-Star team when the series begins as Steph Curry has returned to the lineup after being sidelined with an MCL sprain in his left knee throughout the opening round against San Antonio. Curry bucketed 28 points, seven rebounds, and eight assists over 37 minutes in his last effort, which resulted in a series-clinching 113-104 win over the New Orleans Pelicans. Kevin Durant, Draymond Green and Klay Thompson round out the fearsome foursome that will provide the Rockets as stern a test as they will face in this 2018 postseason.
Both teams roll into the Western Conference Finals having won their first- and second-round series 4-1 but few if any postseason runs compare to Golden State’s winning 16 of 17 playoff games last season. In fact, the Warriors, as good as they were this season after racking up 58 wins, were not the juggernaut that blazed through last year’s regular season with 67 wins or the previous year in which they went a staggering 73-9. This regular season belonged to the Rockets, registering a 65-17 record which landed them the No. 1 seed in the West and the best record in the league.
Keys to the Series
The dynamic duo of Houston’s James Harden and Chris Paul rivals any in the league and that includes Curry and Durant. The question remains: Will the Rockets contend with Thompson and Green? Fortunately, Houston has a few answers, one in the form of unheralded Trevor Ariza, who held Durant to 28.6 percent from the floor when he guarded him in the first game of the three-game regular season set between the clubs. Center Clint Capela has also made his bones on a club whose defensive efficiency rating of 103.8 points per 100 possessions was sixth this season, which was far better than last year when they were ranked 18th and allowed 106.4 points per 100 possessions. Houston also signed PJ Tucker to give the Rockets a sharper defensive edge, and all this focus on defense has translated into the most regular season wins in franchise history while the addition of the All-Star Paul has infused the offense with another go-to option besides Harden.
If the Rockets win the series, it will be due to perimeter defense limiting Curry from sniping beyond the arc and double-teaming Durant down low so he can’t drive the paint whenever he chooses. If Houston indulges Golden State in a pure track meet, then this one will get ugly for the Rockets. Houston trailed only Golden State in offensive production during the regular season, 113.5 PPG vs. 112.4 PPG, and has the wherewithal to contain Golden State just enough if Houston’s offense is clicking.
What are the Odds?
Whenever I go hunting for lines my first click is always to Sportsbook Review where I can get point spreads from not only one of the world’s best online sportsbooks but all of them! That’s right, check out SBR for all things sports gambling including the latest line moves at the all the top shops. As of this writing, we see the majors hanging the Rockets -2 in the first game of the series although it is indeed the Warriors installed as -185 favorites to advance to the NBA Finals.
Personally, I believe the Rockets have made the appropriate adjustments to dethrone the Warriors this season. Paul was the perfect complement to Harden to help bear more of the offensive load. Houston has integrated some very valuable spare parts and role players to shape this roster into the premier unit in the league.
I like the fact that the public is backing Golden State because – well – they’re the public and blindly follow Golden State because Golden State is Golden State. It’s what squares do, they line up like lemmings and follow each other over the same cliff time and time again. Well, not us because we see a freight train coming and it’s got Houston written all over it. Rockets in six.