Sound smart for the rematch we've all been waiting for

The Casual Fans Guide to Rockets versus Warriors

Rockets.com

The 87 warm up games are over.

Everything the Rockets have done since they were eliminated by the Golden State Warriors has been strategically geared toward coordinating a playoff rematch of a series where Houston pushed arguably the greatest basketball team ever assembled to the brink of elimination. And while the rendezvous is a round earlier than expected, it looks to be just as much of a battle as the classic series basketball fans were treated to last season. Here's a look at what to expect from the first must-watch playoff series.

How Houston got here

Houston slipped down from a potential second seed playoff berth to the fourth seed on the last week of the season, drawing a round one match up against the Utah Jazz. The Jazz came into the series as one of the hottest teams in the NBA since the All Star Break. Unphased, the Rockets set about smacking them around the Toyota Center in games one and two. Game three was an ugly slop-fest, but Houston's star power carried them across the finish line to go up three games to one. Jazz star guard Donovan Mitchell erupted in the fourth quarter of game four to eek out a win at the last moment, which brought the series back to Houston. Wednesday night the Rockets polished the Jazz off, and in spite of the Warriors/Clippers series having yet to determine a victor, Houston preemptively mounted up and headed to the bay area in anticipation of the inevitable.

How Golden State got here

If you haven't heard by now, the Golden State Warriors are really good. Actually, as far as the regular season is concerned, they were the best in the western conference. Their number one seed saw the defending champions square off against the eighth seeded Los Angeles Clippers. The Warriors jumped all over the Clippers in game one just as everyone expected, with former MVP Steph Curry dropping 38 points in a 121-104 victory.

In game two, the Warriors became the joke of the week as they blew an NBA playoff record 31-point lead and managed to cede a home game to the Clippers.

Game three and four were Warrior victories, and as Houston closed out the Jazz on Wednesday, Golden State failed to do the same. The Clippers' game five victory began to raise concern and at the very least gave the talking heads something to yell at each other about until Friday. Kevin Durant--apparently over everyone's nonsense--dropped 50 points on the Clippers en route to a series clinching victory.

Know your enemy

Stephen Curry - Former MVP and all star point guard. Stephen Curry is basically the greatest shooter of all time, and that was established before he started wearing contacts roughly a month ago. So yeah, he could get better. Great. Curry is one of the key pieces of what is essentially an All-Star team that was given 82 games to get to know each other.

Klay Thompson -Shooting guard. Thompson plays great defense, and has deadly range which he puts on display regularly via Curry-fed catch and shoots from beyond the 3-point line. Thompson still believes that goatees are cool. He also pitches chocolate milk as his post-game recovery drink on TV, which I almost kind of believe. He's easy to spot, as he's the player that most resembles a video game create-a-player that--beyond adding a goatee--looks like no changes were made.

Kevin Durant - Former MVP small forward and one of the top three basketball players on the planet. At nearly 7 feet tall he has the length to shoot over you, the speed to blow past you, and range from all over the court. Durant also has a lot of feelings, and likes to let you know through his burner twitter accounts. Durant also thinks goatees are cool. Whatever.

Draymond Green - Power forward. Green is the linchpin of the entire operation. He's a defensive juggernaut and the kind of glue guy you'll find diving after loose balls. He also talks a lot of trash. Then, because he's on a generationally-talented team, he backs it up. At one point he had a respectable jump shot, but they must have broken up because that thing is nowhere to be found. Made a name for himself kicking other players in spots they would prefer to not be kicked. Green very easily falls into that category of player that fans love when he's on their roster and despise otherwise.

Andrew Bogut - Center. Big Australian that knows the Warriors system well enough to warrant a call as insurance if/when starting center DeMarcus Cousins went down with an injury. Bogut won't be leaned on for anything outside of defense and an inside presence to counter the Rockets' Clint Capela.

Prediction

The Rockets are in for a dogfight. Golden State is the number one seed for a reason. They're widely expected by most to defeat the Rockets, but those same people will also agree that if there is one team that can oust the Warriors in the west, it's the Rockets. General Manager Daryl Morey has made it very clear that this is a Rockets roster specifically designed to beat Golden State, and it's largely worked. In their past 14 contests, Houston is 8-6 against the defending champions.

Houston enters this rematch much deeper than a year before, while Golden State's depth-outside of Andre Iguodala--has alternatively taken a noticeable step back. The Rockets are fully healthy (*knocks on wood*), while Golden State lost their starting center for the remainder of the playoffs in round one. While they may not have home court advantage like they did a year before, Houston is still a dangerous team.

The Warriors, however, are still the Warriors. They've won 3 of the last 4 NBA Championships and have lost none of their core. Houston has a shot. Houston can beat them. Houston is not favored, however, and they shouldn't be.

The problem is that Kevin Durant will not be stopped because he can't be. The Rockets' best chance will be to do their best against Durant, while shutting down Thompson and forcing Curry into foul trouble via isolation plays against James Harden. A lot of things have to go right for Houston to win, and it's entirely possible.

From an objective standpoint however, it's difficult to pick against the Warriors until someone finally beats them. I expect at least a six game series and would not be surprised with another game seven. The Warriors should win, but the series will most likely go down as the best of the 2019 playoffs.

I'd prefer to be wrong, but I predict Warriors in six.

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The media has mixed feelings about the James Harden trade. Photo by Mike Ehrmann/Getty Images

James Harden was 100-percent exactly right earlier this week when he said the Houston Rockets were "just not good enough."

How could they be? Not when their moody superstar scorer, who makes about half a million dollars per game, shows up chubby, looking like a kielbasa about to explode in the microwave. Hey, some people eat when they're unhappy, it's a defense mechanism. In Harden's case, the only defense he's exhibited this season. At least he had a good excuse for missing pre-season training camp and alienating his teammates - he was busy partying with Cinnamon and Cherish in Atlanta and Vegas without a mask. Worst of all, he went into the tank his last four games in a Rockets uniform, standing around, arms folded, scoring fewer than 20 points each time, all Rockets losses. Fans in the front row were asking him to move, he was blocking their view of players who cared about winning. James Harden sabotaged his own team, a team that offered him $50 million a year to stay. Something that crazy could only happen in professional sports these days.

There's a saying that drives the American labor movement: "a fair day's wage for a fair day's work." It's the motto of the American Federation of Labor. The National Basketball Players Association is not a member. Harden's sulking on the court, cheating the Rockets and their fans, was unforgivable.

Harden, sitting out games while somehow being on the court, forced the Rockets to trade him - and quick - to Brooklyn. The trade, when you ignore the fine print and unindicted co-conspirators Cleveland and Indiana, sent Harden to Brooklyn in exchange for Caris LeVert (immediately flipped for Victor Oladipo), Jarrett Allen, three first-round draft picks and four swapped first-rounders. It's true, when you trade a superstar, you never get back equal value. The other team wins.

If it makes Rockets fans feel any better, the media in New York already has problems with their new problem child. I should say newest problem child. Kyrie Irving plays for the Nets.

"They (the Nets) gave up everybody! There's nothing left now. I just want to cry, It's awful," weeped WFAN Radio talk host Evan Roberts. For those who don't subscribe to weekly Arbitron ratings reports, WFAN is the most powerful, top-rated sports talk station in the Apple.

"You're leading down the road of doom. Harden and Durant could be gone in a year and a half. I'm not convinced this gives them a better chance to win a title. I'm living a nightmare again. They better freaking win."

Circle March 3 on your Rockets schedule. That's when the Brooklyn Nets, with their Big 3 of Kevin Durant, James Harden and possibly Kyrie Irving visit Toyota Center. I hear talk radio salivating over the record jeers that will cascade over Harden's name, although I'm not buying it. Fans don't think like the media does. I'm thinking that Rockets fans will welcome Harden back - one night only - with cheers.

Toyota Center public address announcer Matt Thomas: "Usually when former Rockets come to town for the first time since leaving, I give them a positive introduction. It's up to the fans how to react."

James Harden spent eight seasons with the Rockets. He is a spectacular player who watched other NBA players engineer trades so they could compete for a title. Harden didn't think the Rockets were good enough, and he's right. So he wanted out. We've all been there, a job we didn't like for a company we didn't like, for a boss we didn't respect. Harden wanting to be traded is understandable. How he went about it was deplorable. He hurt his co-workers.

Houston will make Harden pay for his disrespectful departure. He has an upscale restaurant set to open here. The name of the steakhouse will be "13." Harden's business partners may want to change that number ... before the restaurant's telephone number is disconnected. There are plenty of other restaurants in Houston. Rich people who can afford steakhouse prices hold grudges.

Rockets fans searching for a silver lining say, "We got two decent players and a whole bunch of precious first-round picks" for a malcontent who would rather be anywhere (except maybe Sacramento) than Houston." Yes, a bunch of first-round picks does bode well for the future. Anywhere, except maybe Houston.

Houston's draft war room isn't the most successful operation in the NBA. Over the past decade prior to 2000, under the direction of general manager Daryl Morey, the Rockets made 16 draft picks. Not one of them is still in a Rockets uniform, many of them have sought employment outside of America, some outside of basketball. Among their first-round whiffs: Nikola Mirotic, Terrence Jones, Sam Dekker - all out of the league. Best of all, Royce White, who played three whole games in his NBA career and finished with a scoring average of 0.00 points per game.

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