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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Rockets blast Thunder in home opener, 124-91

Rockets take care of business in home opener. Photo by Tim Warner/Getty Images.

The Houston Rockets had an impressive outing versus the Oklahoma City Thunder after an embarrassing loss against the Minnesota Timberwolves Wednesday night. They took care of business at home on Friday night, which was a surprising blowout. The Rockets didn't have to worry about Karl-Anthony Towns screaming at Alperen Sengun or Anthony Edwards telling Coach Silas to call a timeout. Instead, they took their frustrations out on the Thunder (another younger core).

"We responded and bounced back from that game 1," Silas said. "I wouldn't say it was taking anything out. It was just learning and applying to what you learn and that's going to be us this year. Applying to what you learn and getting better and having some games like we had the other day. Veteran teams have some games when they don't play as well they want."

Christian Wood led the way, as he controlled the paint on all aspects with rebounding and putbacks. He played an incredible game after having a poor performance versus the Timberwolves. Silas showed complete trust in allowing Wood to open sets, as he walked the ball down the court several times, and in transition too. Wood became aggressive on the perimeter with open shooting and tough shots, and long strides towards the rim. He finished the night with 31 points and 13 rebounds off 66 percent shooting from the field.

The young core for the Thunder had a tough night defending Wood from every aspect. Hopefully, he keeps this play up. Silas loved the space that was created throughout the game for Wood, which included the help from Eric Gordon, as he continued to play better. Wood continues to develop underneath the Silas umbrella. He had a great feel for off-the-dribble shooting a few times. Wood becomes more dangerous when space is created on the court.

"It allows me to show what I can do. It allows the floor to be open and I can create for other guys and create for myself," Wood said.

As Gordon continues to impress, his teammate Kevin Porter Jr was amazed with his performance.

Gordon looked marvelous inside and outside of the paint, as it looked like a time ripple. The younger guards of the Thunder had a tough time staying in front of Gordon. His size and strength gave the Thunder a huge problem. Gordon is shooting the ball better too, as he is shooting the three-ball at 70 percent this season. Although it's a small sample size, Gordon is trying to overcome his shooting struggles from last year. Gordon finished with 22 points on 66 percent shooting versus the Thunder.

"EG is the biggest part of this squad," Porter said. He comes in and just scores. We need somebody off the bench to do that. He is our guy when me and J come out, it's EG time and he knows that, and comes in aggressive. So much energy on the bench, and we need that every night from him if we want a chance to win."

As I recently mentioned Porter, his facilitation did look better versus the Thunder than the Timberwolves. Porter had nine turnovers in his first game but managed to have two Friday night. He made great slip passes and found open teammates in the open corner. Porter forced a good number of passes versus the Timberwolves but looked more relaxed Friday night. The hardest position in the NBA is the point guard position, but Silas will not allow Porter to fail. Instead of nine turnovers, Porter dished out nine assists. Silas said:

"Bounce back right, going from nine turnovers to nine assists… I think he had two turnovers tonight, which is great. He is making plays for his teammates, and he was really focused."

Porter's shiftiness and creative ability allowed his teammates to get open looks near the rim. He had 18 points because of his step-back threes and first step going towards the basket. Thankfully, Porter is a great ball handler, which confuses defenders on different spots on the court. It's almost like watching a ballerina skate on ice in the Olympics. Hopefully, his confidence continues to get better throughout the year. Porter shot the three-ball at 50 percent tonight. Efficiency is key for Porter this year.

"I'm just trying to let the game slow down," Porter said. "I had a lot of turnovers last game and I just wanted to piggyback and learn from them and learn from some of my forced passes and reads. And sometimes I still force it a little bit. My guys hate that, and sometimes I'm still passive and I'm working on that. When to pass and score and bounce it out, and tonight I felt like I did a good job of that."

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