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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Houston now focused on postseason

Altuve and Correa homer, Astros drop final regular-season game

Photo by Mike Stobe/Getty Images

With no playoff impact at stake if the Astros won or lost the game, Houston took Sunday's final regular-season game as a chance to get their lineup a few more at-bats before shifting focus to Tuesday's first game of the post-season. Here is a quick recap of the game against the Rangers:

Final Score: Rangers 8, Astros 4.

Record: 29-31, second in the AL West.

Winning pitcher: Wes Benjamin (2-1, 4.84 ERA).

Losing pitcher: Chase De Jong (0-1, 14.73 ERA).

Houston's main bats get a final tune-up

Knowing they'd only have a couple of at-bats to work with, some of Houston's big bats took advantage, starting with Jose Altuve. He crushed a pitch in the top of the first, a solo homer to put the Astros in front 1-0. After the Rangers tied the game 1-1 in the bottom of the second, Altuve started the third with a walk before moving to third base on a Michael Brantley single, which improved Brantley's season average to .300.

Aledmys Diaz would pick up the RBI on a groundout to score Altuve, putting Houston back in front 2-1. In Correa's last at-bat in the top of the fourth, he extended the lead to 3-1 with a solo home run of his own.

Rangers hand Astros a loss to end the regular season

After getting the early run against Chase De Jong, the Rangers would put together a big inning against him in the fourth. After two one-out singles, Rougned Odor would give Texas their first lead of the day on a three-run homer to make it 4-3.

De Jong would continue to struggle in the inning, getting just one more out while loading the bases, prompting a move to the bullpen to bring in Nivaldo Rodriguez to try and eat up more innings. The Rangers greeted him with a two-RBI single to extend their lead to 6-3 before ending the fourth. Odor would hit his second home run of the game in the bottom of the fifth, a solo shot to make it a four-run lead at 7-3.

Rodriguez allowed another run in the bottom of the seventh, making it 8-3. Diaz, who drove in a run earlier, would account for another RBI in the top of the eighth, getting Houston's third solo homer of the day. That would make it an 8-4 game, which would go final as the Rangers would win the regular season's last game.

Up Next: Houston's first game of the playoffs will be on Tuesday, with the start time and opponent TBD while the rest of today's games wrap up, and the schedule is announced. Regardless, the Astros are expected to begin that best-of-three series with Zack Greinke (3-3, 4.03 ERA).

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