WHO WILL IT BE?

Get off the fence: A guide to picking a side to root for in the 2019 NBA Finals

It's been over two weeks since the Rockets were ripped from the playoffs at the hands of the fearsome Golden State Warriors, and the overall level of basketball interest has waned noticeably across the city. But if you love pro hoops that's all about to change as the league prepares for its first new Finals matchup in four years (Well, 50% new). And while the conference championships have been plenty of fun with some remarkable moments mixed in, theres just nothing like the NBA Finals.

With that being said, unless you have some money on the line it can be a little difficult to get invested in the outcome when you don't have a rooting interest in either team. Well, we here at SportsMap have done the work for you and are proud to present the definitive guide to picking a side as a neutral fan.

The case for Toronto

Gamblers Delight - Whether you have money on the series or not, if you're a fan of the degenerate arts might I point your attention to one of the highest rollers in professional basketball, Raptors president Masai Ujiri.

Having already established his reputation as a shark around the card table (especially around the likes of James Dolan), Masai traded one of the cornerstones of his franchise for a one year rental of then injured superstar Kawhi Leonard. This move is the equivalent of putting your wife's engagement ring on the table at the end of a long night of almost winning, and when the series is over we'll find out if Masai blew it all for nothing or if he gets to slip the ring back into his pocket as if he knew it was going there all along.

From Canada with Love - While it may be exciting that the Raptors are the first team to push the Finals to the international stage, thats hardly a compelling reason to root them on in a best-of-seven series. But considering how diverse of a population we have here in Houston, it wouldn't be surprising if you find yourself having some overlap in background with one of the seven nationalities that spans Toronto's roster (none of which are actually Canadian, but Drake is like six feet away from the bench at all times so you guys are represented).

Perhaps you have an affinity for African phenom's Pascal Siakam or Serge Ibaka, or maybe you would like rooting for the fiery Spanish passion of Marc Gasol and, ugh… also Serge Ibaka? International basketball is confusing. Between Caribbean representation from Chris Boucher and the waning force that is Linsantiy, theres plenty of room to engage in the kind of sports fueled nationalism usually reserved only for the FIFA world cup. One thing is for sure, this teams only in favor of building a wall if it keeps Greek Freaks out of the paint!

The Case for Golden State

Evil Corp - This postseason Kawhi Leonard is averaging 31.2 points on 62% true shooting, a feat accomplished only by the likes of Lebron, Jordan, Kareem, and Shaq. And yet it still feels like it could barely be enough to even keep things competitive against the team that "ruined basketball". If you like cheering on the bad guy, the Darth Vader or Dick Cheney of the story, the Warriors are your team.

I'm not saying the team or their fans are evil (although it is difficult to make a case that the people of Oakland are "Good"…), but if you are just starting to root for Golden State in 2019, you are the embodiment of evil and sunlight is probably not your friend. And thats ok! Rooting on the Warriors is the perfect fit for you, (also have you heard of the Yankees or Patriots) and you wont be disappointed how deep their bag of tricks runs. The Warriors can do anything from setting unlimited moving screens, injuring Kawhi in the playoffs, or even worse they could…

Play the Best Basketball, Probably of all time - It's the most unfair thing they do actually. The Warriors combine one of the most complex and intricate offensive schemes with a penchant for high caliber defending, and guess what they actually do it better without 2x Finals MVP Kevin Durant playing. They've broken countless records and are probably gunning for the Harlem Globetrotters winning percentage at this point in their dynasty. So if you like blowouts and hate the teetering, lead switching nature of competitive basketball, its time to say hello to the best drug the Bay Area has to offer, winning.


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McCullers Jr. out-pitched friend and former teammate Dallas Keuchel on Father's Day. Photo by Ezra Shaw/Getty Images

With three impressive wins to start this series against the once AL-leading Chicago White Sox, Houston tried to extend their winning streak to seven games and finish a four-game sweep on Father's Day. Thanks to a big inning against former-Astro Dallas Keuchel, they would win to keep their hot streak going.

Final Score: Astros 8, White Sox 2

Astros' Record: 43-28, first in the AL West

Winning Pitcher: Lance McCullers Jr. (4-1)

Losing Pitcher: Dallas Keuchel (6-2)

Rough return to Houston for Keuchel

In his first game against his old squad, Dallas Keuchel would not have a memorable start on the mound for Chicago. Houston made him labor in the first inning, loading the bases though they only came away with one run on an RBI single by Abraham Toro, grabbing the early 1-0 lead. After going down 1-2-3 in the second, they got after Keuchel again in the third.

They ended up batting around against him that inning, including a two-RBI single by Yordan Alvarez, RBI double by Taylor Jones, and bases-loaded RBI-walk by Jose Altuve, which would end Keuchel's day very early and leave the bases juiced. Chicago's bullpen would walk another batter to give Keuchel another earned run, making it a 6-2 game, with all six going against the former Houston ace. Carlos Correa extended the lead to five runs in the next inning, hitting a leadoff solo home run to make it 7-2.

McCullers Jr. gives up two over six

That gave Lance McCullers Jr. a nice lead to work with, and he managed it well. He had one big mistake in the early goings of the game, giving up a one-out single in the second to set up a two-run home run, which at the time put Chicago in front 2-1 before Houston's offense came alive. He followed that up with four scoreless innings, erasing a walk in each with some tremendous defense behind him—his final line: 6.0 IP, 2 H, 2 ER, 4 BB, 4 K, 1 HR, 94 P.

Astros complete the sweep to jump on top of the standings

Still a six-run game in the top of the seventh, Blake Taylor entered as the first reliever out of Houston's bullpen, tossing a 1-2-3 frame. He continued in the top of the eighth, getting two strikeouts in another scoreless inning. The 8-2 score would go final as Ralph Garza Jr. would enter as the third pitcher of the day to wrap things up with a scoreless top of the ninth to finish the four-game sweep. The win, their seventh straight, paired with an Oakland loss earlier in the afternoon, moves Houston into the top spot in the AL West based on winning percentage.

Up Next: This long stretch of consecutive games continues on Monday in Baltimore, as the Astros pick up a seven-game road trip starting with a three-game set against Baltimore getting underway at 6:05 PM Central. Jake Odorizzi (1-3, 5.68 ERA) will get the start for Houston, going opposite of Keegan Akin (0-2, 5.76 ERA) for the Orioles.

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