May. 11, 2018
NBA Western Conference Finals Preview: Rockets Look to Blast Off to NBA Finals vs. Warriors
It only seemed like a matter of time before we reached this point and got to see the Houston Rockets take on the Golden State Warriors with a trip to the NBA Finals on the line. Both teams have dominated their opponents throughout the playoffs so far and it should make for an exciting seven-game series.
Is this the year the Houston Rockets end the Warriors reign and make it to their first NBA Finals since 1995? Can Golden State reach their fourth consecutive NBA Finals and have the potential to win a third title in four years? A lot is on the line for both teams and their stars, buckle up and enjoy the ride.
How They Got Here: Houston Rockets
The Houston Rockets finished the regular season with a record of 65-17 which placed them first in the Western Conference and with the best record in the NBA. Therefore, they have the luxury of having home-court advantage throughout the playoffs. The Rockets quickly dispatched the Minnesota Timberwolves in five games, winning three of their four games by double-digits with the only outlier being a three point Game 1 victory. They were an unbeaten 3-0 at home while going 1-1 on the road in the series, but had a date set up with Donovan Mitchell and the Utah Jazz in the second round.
Just like in the first round, the Rockets made quick work of the Jazz in five games. After splitting the first two games on home court, Houston took both games on the road in Utah to take a commanding 3-1 series lead with Game 5 back in Houston. On Tuesday night, the Rockets took care of business on their own floor and finished off the Jazz in Game 5 by a final of 112-102. Houston's four wins all came by double-digits in the series, they went an impressive 2-0 on the road and 2-1 at home. Heading into the Western Conference Finals, Houston is 5-1 at home, 3-1 on the road, and an overall 8-2 in the playoffs. They are being led by star players James Harden and Chris Paul while getting help from players like Clint Capela, Eric Gordon, and P.J. Tucker on a nightly basis. They will look to take down the defending champion Golden State Warriors and have their first trip to the NBA Finals since 1995.
How They Got Here: Golden State Warriors
This season the Golden State Warriors took a slight step backwards as they were mired by minor injuries at times. They finished the season with a 58-24 record which was a step back from the 67-15 record they posted a year ago. They finished second in the conference, seven games back of the Houston Rockets, and with the third-best record in the NBA this season behind the Toronto Raptors and Houston Rockets. As Houston did with the T-Wolves, the Warriors made quick work of their conference rival San Antonio Spurs in five games despite missing Stephen Curry. They took the first three games of the series by double-digit margins before falling in Game 4 by a final of 103-90 in San Antonio. However, they returned home and grinded out a 99-91 victory to move on to the next round. The Warriors were 1-1 on the road and an unbeaten 3-0 at home to advance in the series.
The nxt round was another cakewalk for the defending champions as they took on a surprising New Orleans Pelicans team that swept the Portland Trailblazers in the first round. However, Golden State quickly ended their Cinderella story by dominating them in five games. They were in control for much of the series and took the first two games on their home court before dropping Game 3 on the road by 19. But the Warriors have not lost back-to-back playoff games since the Cleveland Cavaliers made their 3-1 comeback in 2016 and they followed up that Game 3 loss with a 118-92 win headed back to California. Upon returning home, the Warriors handled the Pelicans with ease and closed them out in Game 5 by a final score of 113-104. This puts the Warriors at a home record of 6-0 at home, 2-2 on the road, and an overall 8-2 in the playoffs. With their team of All-Stars in Stephen Curry, Klay Thompson, Kevin Durant, and Draymond Green the Warriors should be a clear favorite. If it comes down to home-court advantage, Golden State would need to steal one of the road and given their unbeaten home record in the playoffs, it may be all they would need.
Western Conference Finals: Rockets-Warriors
Without a doubt, both teams are playing at a high level so far in the playoffs and it should make for an exciting series. In the regular season, the Rockets took two out of three from the Warriors with one win coming on the road and the other coming at home. The real question that looms for me about this series is: Will Chris Paul and James Harden show up or disappear in the series? This is Chris Paul's first time in a conference finals and James Harden's second with the Rockets. The last time he made the conference finals the Warriors took his team out in five games. If Chris Paul and James Harden can lead the way for the supporting cast of the Rockets, then this team has a shot to beat the Warriors. The only thing that stands in their way in my opinion is themselves. Their past playoff history speaks for itself and if they want to reverse that narrative they need to beat the Warriors this year. Home-court advantage will likely play a huge role in this series and if Houston wants to take this series they cannot let it slip into the hands of Golden State. It is time for Paul and Harden to show up in the playoffs and get the Rockets back to the NBA Finals.
Golden State on the other hand is in a new position in this year's playoffs. They are not the number one seed for the first time since they made the playoffs in the 2013-2014 season, meaning the road to the finals does not go through them. That is unless they can steal a game on the road. Out of the four remaining teams, only the Boston Celtics have an undefeated record at home this postseason, going 7-0 against the Philadelphia 76ers and Milwaukee Bucks. Like I said, home-court advantage is likely to play a huge role in this series, it will be important for Golden State to snag a game on the road if they want to take this series. With all their stars back from injuries and playing at a high level, it is hard to imagine the Warriors not returning to the NBA Finals. Houston will prove to be a formidable opponent for Golden State, but I believe the depth of the Warriors will prove too much for the Rockets. I expect to see the Warriors return to their fourth straight NBA Finals to take on the Boston Celtics or Cleveland Cavaliers for a shot at their third NBA title in four years.
Prediction: Warriors in 6
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