#1 – Golden State Warriors
The Warriors may have swept the Rockets during the regular season, but two of the games were played without the services of Houston’s starting center Dwight Howard. With that said, Golden State should still have a significant advantage in this match-up even with a healthy Howard manning the middle for the Rockets. After a relatively slow start in the previous series, Stephen Curry reminded everyone of exactly why he was the MVP of the regular season as he led his Warriors over the Grizzlies. It will be interesting to see how the Rockets elect to defend him as they are likely to be without the services of their best perimeter defender in point guard Patrick Beverley.
Although improved defensively, Golden State was in the middle of the pack in terms of opponents’ points per game (99.9) throughout the regular season. They’ve actually been even more effective in the postseason, as the Warriors are currently only surrendering 94.2 PPG while holding opponents to just 42.9 percent from the field and limiting them to only 29.4 percent from beyond the arc.
Look for head coach Steve Kerr to utilize the same small-ball rotations against the larger frontcourt of Houston that eventually made life difficult for the Memphis big men. Klay Thompson was able to significantly limit James Harden’s effectiveness in two of their match-ups this season, but the Warriors will have to bring a total team effort in order to avoid big games from supporting players like Josh Smith and Corey Brewer.
#2 – Houston Rockets
Whether you are surprised to see the Rockets in this position, Houston truly deserves a ton of credit for navigating the murky waters of a tough Western Conference, enduring multiple injuries to key players and finding a way to become only the ninth team to overcome a 3-1 deficit and live to play on.
They may have been swept by the Warriors by an average of 15.3 points in the regular season, but Harden was exactly right when he mentioned the Rockets being a “new team” in a pre-series media session. Houston has definitely played with a new sense of purpose over their last few games, and Dwight Howard has absolutely responded to much of the criticism (deserved or not) he faced after being ejected from a game midway through the series against the Clippers.
The Rockets will absolutely need to employ the same all-hands-on-deck approach that helped them win the previous series, and could absolutely use a strong series from guys like Brewer, Smith and veteran Jason Terry if they are to knock off the team that has played the best basketball all year.
Who Wins Game 1?
You can expect the Rockets to continue looking to spread the court and increasing the tempo in this series. Trouble is, that plays right into Golden State’s collective hands, as the Warriors easily boast the deepest and most versatile rotations of all four remaining teams. Warriors continue to roll and take Game 1.
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