The Warriors have been the best team in the NBA all season, and that hasn't changed in the playoffs, as they dispatched the Pelicans in a four game sweep and, after a brief hiccup against a tough Grizzlies squad, dominated the final three games of that series to win in six and reach the conference finals.
They are, of course, led by MVP Stephen Curry, who has been a dominant offensive force all season. He has continued to light it up in the playoffs, scoring over 28 points a game and shooting 41% from three. His constant movement, ability to play screen and roll, and his incredibly quick release make him nearly impossible to guard; opponents just have to hope he misses.
Unfortunately for the Rockets, the problem is magnified because they are missing their best perimeter defender in Patrick Beverly, who continues to be out with injury. Without him, it will probably fall on an aging Jason Terry to try to keep up with Curry, while Trevor Ariza will likely be tasked with chasing Klay Thompson, who is merely shooting 47.7% from three in the playoffs, around constant screens.
The Rockets, who showed impressive fortitude in coming back from 3-1 down against the Clippers to reach this point, will rely on James Harden to put pressure on the Warriors defense. His ability to draw fouls will be crucial in this series, as getting the Warriors in foul trouble is one way to minimize their damage. Still, the Warriors have several options to throw out there against him, including Harrison Barnes, Thompson, and Andre Iguodala off the bench, so it's going to be a lot of hard work.
Expect a lot of three pointers in this series, as Houston led the league in 3PAr, while Golden State was seventh. The difference is that the Warriors shoot them a lot better--a league best 39.8% during the season, while the Rockets were at 34.8%. The Rockets will need to take advantage of their ability to get to the free throw line if they want to keep up with the Warriors, but their struggles to convert from the stripe are likely to be a major stumbling block for them.
Overall, it's difficult to see the Rockets, who lost all four regular season match ups, having enough defense to keep up with the Warriors over a best of seven series. Their tendency to turn the ball over (28th in the league in TO%) is also likely to cause major problems, as giving the Warriors extra possessions, especially in transition where they are deadly, is just asking for trouble.
All of that said, this is the conference finals, and nobody should expect a walk in the park. The Rockets will compete, and I expect them to get a couple of games. So we'll go with Warriors in six.
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