Previewing the Western Conference Finals
The NBA is now down to their final four, with the top seeds in each respective conference in the championship series to have the right to advance to the NBA Finals. Today we will take a look at the Western Conference Finals and see how each team got here, what matchups to watch, the top storylines in the matchups, and series predictions.
Round 3. Western Conference Finals: 1) Golden State Warriors vs. 2) Houston Rockets
How they got here:
Golden State Warriors: The top overall seeded Warriors knocked off the eighth seeded Pelicans and superstar Anthony Davis in the opening round in one of the most competitive sweeps we have seen in a long time. Despite trailing by double digits in three of their four wins the Dubs were able to find a way to closeout a series that many thought would go at least five or six games. In the second round, the Warriors had a slow start out of the gate, trailing the Memphis Grizzlies 2-1 after three games before finding their stroke once more on the heels of signature games from MVP Stephen Curry in the following three wins to win the series in 6 games.
Houston Rockets: The Rockets were thought to have been seeded into one of the harder first round matchups versus a Mavericks team that had enough big names as anyone in on their roster. However, injuries, age and even playoff chemistry made the Dallas franchise a laughing stock and the Rockets were able to pull off a gentlemen’s sweep in five games with the series never being in question. The second round was where winning time happened. Although matched up versus a lower seeded LA Clippers team, the Rockets were heavily out favored, given the Clippers had just successfully knocked off the defending champs San Antonio Spurs. Despite being down 3-1 after four games, the Rockets became just one of seven teams to ever come back and win the series, highlighted by their impressive 19 point second half comeback on the road in Game 6 to win by more than 12 points.
Matchups to Watch:
SG’s Klay Thompson (GSW) and James Harden (HOU)
This matchup should have plenty of points accounted for. The Rockets were able to climb up to the second seed in the conference simply based off of the extraordinary performance star James Harden was able to turn in throughout the season. Harden finished 2nd in the MVP vote race and improved this year in almost every statistical category, including his defensive ratings which came under fire in past years. Thompson on the other hand is the ultimate heat check player in the league right now, setting the league record for most points in a quarter earlier this year. Thompson, although pegged as Curry’s sidekick, is more than capable of taking over a game. Expect at least a few times in this conference finals series for Harden and Thompson to go back and forth with exchanging of buckets that will make fans simply want to sit back and admire the matchup.
Top Storylines to Watch:
-Who is the real MVP? –As mentioned Curry and Harden finished 1-2 in MVP voting results with both sides thinking they were more deserving. What better way for each party to prove their true worth during the playoffs, matched up with one another, with a trip to the Finals on the line?
-Can the Rockets’ role players keep it up? – Houston’s only has two stars in Harden and Dwight Howard, the rest are simply role players, who in their own right have been playing out of their mind. If guys like Trevor Ariza, Jason Terry and Josh Smith can keep up the insane amount of three’s they’ve been making of late, it would go down as one of the all-time collective team performances.
-Who wins the coaching battle? –Warriors and rookie Head Coach Steve Kerr as well as Rockets coach Kevin McHale have both played in their fair share of big playoffs series, with both having multiple championships to prove it. However, from a coaching standpoint, neither has ever coached a team this far into the playoffs. It will be interesting to see just what lineups and adjustments each coach has up their sleeve in this third round.
Prediction: Warriors 4-1
The Western Conference Finals start Tuesday, May 19th on ESPN.