Western Conference Finals Preview

Sergio Estrada

Image: Sergio Estrada

Golden State Warriors 

The reigning NBA champions. Winners of two of the last three titles. Three of the last four MVP winners on the roster (Steph Curry has two, Kevin Durant has one). There’s not much to say about the Golden State Warriors that hasn’t already been said, as is the nature of being one of the best NBA teams of all-time.

$1.72 favourites to win the NBA title from bookmaker Sportsbet, the Warriors enter the Western Conference Finals following consecutive 4-1 series wins against San Antonio and New Orleans.

Golden State cruised to victory in both series but should not expect that run to continue when they face Houston, in what could be their toughest test in the Western Conference since 2016 when they battled Oklahoma City.

A healthy Steph Curry will be crucial for the Warriors and could be the difference that separates the two squads at the end of the series.

The Warriors go where Curry takes them. While still possessing All-NBA talent, they are vastly different when Curry rests or is injured. Their offensive rating, which measures a team’s performance at producing points for the offence, is 120.4. Meaning the Warriors average 120.4 points scored for every 100 possessions they have.

That drops to 106.2 when Curry is off the floor, a rare area of weakness for Golden State that they’ll need to address or face a strong defensive Rockets outfit ready to stifle the reigning champs.

Kevin Durant’s ability to score from anywhere on the court allows the Warriors to be so potent offensively and he’ll need to continue his strong play against defenders such as P.J Tucker and Trevor Ariza. He enters the WCF averaging 28 points per game, up from 26.4 in the regular season.

Andre Iguodala will be a key contributor in the series, likely to be called upon to try and play lockdown defence against Houston’s MVP favourite James Harden.

If the title favourites are able to hit top gear, their ability to beat teams on both ends of the floor will make them hard to beat.

Houston Rockets

They’ve talked the talk, now it’s time to walk the walk.

Rockets general manager Daryl Morey laid down the gauntlet to his side in late December, stating that the Warriors are “the only thing we think about.”

“I think I’m not supposed to say that, but we’re basically obsessed with how do we beat the Warriors?” he added.

Houston attempted 132 more three pointers than two pointers in the regular season and broke their own NBA record for three-point shots attempted per game (41.9). The Rockets regular season offence will need to be at full throttle against the Warriors if they are to overcome the superior talent of the favourites.

James Harden’s elite ability to drive to the rim and create space for shots should help him win any matchup against Golden State defenders. However he will need to create for others such as big man Clint Capela if Houston want to extend the Warriors defence and open up the offensive end of the court.

Chris Paul will face arguably the toughest test in his playoff career when he plays in his first ever conference finals. He’ll be tasked with slowing down the Warriors all-time shooting backcourt in Curry and Klay Thompson defensively, and attacking Curry on the offensive end.

Paul usually picks and chooses when he takes over on offence, but his ability to score quickly will be required, particularly if being guarded by a slower Warriors defender such as JaVale McGee or Zaza Pachulia.

Capela could be the x-factor for the Rockets, despite his offensive game being limited to shots within the key and usually off of Harden lobs.

He is more talented than Warriors big men McGee and Pachulia, punishes smaller defenders with regularity offensively and has been blocking near three (2.8) shots per game in the playoffs.

If he can score when being guarded by Durant or 2016/17 Defensive Player of the Year Draymond Green, then the Rockets could gain the needed advantage that pushes the series in their favour.

Houston will need to shoot a minimum of 45 percent from behind the arc if they are to combat Golden State’s bevvy of all-time scorers.

Outcome

This series has been anticipated and hoped upon since training camps opened back in late September and given the wealth of talent on both sides, it should live up to the hype of being one of the most talked about matchups in recent memory.

The Warriors and Rockets should play each other to a draw in many aspects, but Steph Curry’s standing as the best three-point shooter in NBA history and the subsequent space his shooting allows will be the difference for Golden State. In the end, the experience of playing in three straight NBA Finals will be too much for Houston to overcome.

Golden State 4 – 2 Houston.

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