Charlie Pallilo: Previewing and predicting the Rockets-Warriors series

Steph Curry and the Warriors will be tough to beat. Patrick Smith/Getty Images

Some day in the next five or six weeks the Rockets-Warriors Western Conference Finals showdown will get under way. What the hey, we’ve basically been waiting on it for six months so what’s a few more days? Very few would give the Rockets a good shot had they not earned homecourt advantage. But they did. Alas, over the next couple of weeks I think this fantastic Rockets’ season with its slogan of Run As One, winds up Run is Done. So many angles on this series, so let’s go…

The fundamental difference that makes Golden State the better team is Kevin Durant. The Rockets have no remotely close to even match for him.

The backcourt matchup is stupendous, one of the greatest of all-time with three surefire Hall of Famers and with the fourth a decent bet. Can’t come up with an equal since the late '80s when the Magic Johnson-Byron Scott Laker tandem went up against the Pistons’ Isiah Thomas and Joe Dumars. There is no sound reason to believe that Chris Paul and James Harden will notably outplay Stephen Curry and Klay Thompson, or vice versa.

In his 13th NBA season Paul finally gets a taste of the NBA’s version of the Final Four. It is unreasonable to ask or hope for Paul to be as brilliant against the Warriors as he was in the series clincher over the Jazz, but Paul will have to be sensational for the Rockets to pull off the upset. Paul’s presence at least gives them a fighting chance. We’ve seen how the Rockets fare against the Warriors without a second major star turn; they can’t keep up.

Harden meanwhile will have to be much better than he was in the Utah series. After his phenomenal Game 1 Harden generally stunk the rest of the way. 39 percent shooting from the floor and a sub-pitiful 19 percent behind the three point line are numbers more worthy of Marcia Gay Harden, and against the Warriors would be a ticket to shame.

Paul in particular will have a much more taxing defensive burden vs. Golden State than he did vs. Utah. The Jazz had just one gifted offensive perimeter player in Donovan Mitchell, and Paul typically did not guard him. Against the Warriors “Death Lineup” Harden can be placed/rested on Andre Iguodala. Paul then has to be on Curry or Thompson, with Ariza on the other while P.J. Tucker draws the Durant straw with Clint Capela on Draymond Green. Paul’s skill level is extraordinary and his mid-range mastery dramatically improves the Rockets’ chances against the Golden State defense. However, Paul is 33 years old and within a game and over the run of the series his legs will be tested. Neither Minnesota nor Utah plays high pace basketball. The Warriors can obliterate teams with it.

In Curry, Thompson, and Durant the Warriors have three shooters who are better than all Rockets’ shooters. Curry’s and Thompson’s WORST 3-point shooting percentage seasons are better than Harden’s BEST. Curry’s worst equal’s Paul’s best. However, the Rockets hoped for equalizer is in volume, volume, volume. Hardly anybody not knowing otherwise would believe the Warriors were only 17th in the NBA this season in 3-pointers attempted, though Curry missing 31 games explains part of that. The Warriors led the league in field goal percentage, 3-point percentage, and free throw percentage, while the Rockets ranked 15th, 13th, and ninth respectively.

Standard caveat: stats of the long haul have no necessary bearing on the short haul. Golden State’s seeming weaker points could be products of their cruising through much of the regular season. They certainly didn’t have the consistency of intensity and performance the Rockets displayed in securing 65 wins. The Warriors also had more injury problems. But for what it’s worth, this season Golden State was a bottom 10 rebounding team, can be sloppy with the ball (third worst offensive turnover percentage), and after three straight seasons finishing top five in defensive rating, slipped to 11th.

It’s not a monumental surprise if a 65 win team takes down the defending champs. In the end though, seeing is believing. The way LeBron James is playing, if the Cavs beat the Celtics no one should think of the NBA Final as anti-climactic. If James makes an eighth consecutive Finals appearance and wins his fourth championship., the LeBron vs. Michael Jordan for Greatest of All-Time debate gets very serious. Still feels like this series is final exam time for the Rockets. Salutatorian is very impressive. Warriors in 6.

Buzzer Beaters

1. Thru Wednesday Evan Gattis’s batting average plus Derek Fisher’s batting average was .385. At AAA J.D. Davis was at .450.   2. Happy Mother’s Day to all Moms. 3. Best sports Days: Bronze-Todd Silver-Jason Gold-Opening


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Now my job: Texans feast on Lions

Photo by Getty Images.

Thanksgiving is full of tradition. There's the typical family gathering, large meal, and of course, football. Sometimes, new traditions are added and old ones are retired. I think the Texans did both in their impressive 41-25 win over the Lions in Detroit. Old traditions were carried on (Lions losing on Thanksgiving), some were put to rest (Texans not being able to get turnovers), and new ones were started (multiple passing touchdowns by Deshaun Watson in six straight games).

The fact that this defense got three turnovers in the game was unbelievable! They got all three in the first quarter within the span of eight plays. JJ Watt's pick-six was insane. He went for a batted ball, ended up catching it, and ran it in. They forced Jonathan Williams to fumble on the Lions' very next play from scrimmage and recovered it. On the Lions' next possession, the Texans recovered yet another fumble after the challenge was reversed. Great call by the coaching staff to challenge and win. The defense looked good. Tyrell Adams stood out because he was in on those two fumbles, made 17 total tackles with 14 of them being solo tackles. They also brought pressure that seemed to make Matthew Stafford very inaccurate and resulted in four sacks. I give defensive coordinator Anthony Weaver credit for knowing he needs to blitz to get pressure, but the run defense has to improve.

The offense kept the tempo up in this game as well. The spread and hurry-up were used to keep the Lions already staggered defense off balance. Knowing the Lions were without a couple defensive backs, I thought it would be the perfect marriage of their defense and the Texans' offense. A buddy asked before the game about the line (Texans -3.5) and the over/under (52.5). I told him bet the Texans and the over because neither team can play defense and both have good quarterbacks. Offensive coordinator Tim Kelly put together another good game plan and Watson executed it flawlessly. One route combo I saw later on in the game I particularly enjoyed. Two receivers were tight to the left side. Cooks ran a hook/curl and settled in the middle of the zone while Fuller ran a vertical route. Duke Johnson ran a swing route to that same side. It left Cooks wide open as the attention went to Johnson in the flat, Fuller deep, and the action to the other play side. Route combos are important because it gives the quarterback different reads as he goes through his progressions and lets him pick apart the defense based on what he sees. Combine that with Watson's play and the way Kelly has changed his play calling now that he's liberated from he who shall not be named, we're seeing a beautiful thing.

As good as things were, there's still room for improvement. The defense gives up way too many easy yards, both run and pass. They can't get pressure bringing only four and will often give up big plays if the blitz is picked up. Plus the run defense is still an issue as evidenced by the Lions' first possession of the second half. The Lions ran the ball 10 plays straight for a total of 58 yards on that drive. Utterly ridiculous! Watson was good (17/25 318 yards and four touchdowns), but he missed two more touchdowns with passes slightly off, and continues to hold onto the ball too long at times. The difference between these two issues I've presented here is the fact that Watson has so played well, his "issues" are minor and very correctable, while the defense is terrible and there's no easy fix in sight. But let Romeo Crennel and Anthony Weaver tell it, they're getting the most out of these guys and they're playing disciplined.

The thought that this team may actually creep into the playoff picture may take shape better after next week if they can beat the Colts. I doubt it, but it is getting interesting. Let's see what else happens around them because they need help getting there.

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