POINT BLANK

Joel Blank: 6 things to watch in the Rockets-Warriors series

The Rockets-Warriors series is finally here. Rockets.com

The series that we have all been waiting for is here. The Rockets worked all year to secure home court advantage and hopefully give them that little extra push to get them over the top and defeat the defending NBA champions. The Warriors are 36-8 in the last three Western conference postseasons and have won the last three Western Conference titles. The Rockets witnessed one of those titles first hand and have been obsessed with beating Golden State if you listen to GM Daryl Morey. With all that said, here are some things to look for as you breakdown this huge series:

1) Free to be sold on "D:" Offensively we know both of these teams can fill it up. The top 2 offenses in the NBA are going to try and tilt the scoreboard and that's why defense is going to be key.  The Rockets offense is predicated on isolations and creation by either Chris Paul or James Harden. The Warriors run a similar offense, however all the players off the ball are continually moving and cutting and stay active. This is going to cause all five Rockets defenders to be alert and active at all times. Golden State is also an elite defensive team that has the ability to shut a team down, whether they have their “Hampton 5” lineup on the floor or any combination of their starters with Javale McGee or Kevon Looney.  The Warriors switch everything and rarely double team the ball or the isolating player. They have length and athleticism and the speed to contest on the perimeter and make life difficult for the 3-happy Houston offense on every defensive possession.

2) Clint Capela: As good as the big man has been in the first two playoff series, he hasn't seen anything like the Warriors on both ends of the floor. Offensively, Steve Kerr is going to guard the perimeter and challenge if not dare the Rockets to give the ball to Capella where they will welcome any shot he tries to take. Defensively Capela is going to have to stay out of foul trouble and avoid cheap fouls as the Warriors are going to target him. The X factor is going to be his free throw shooting. Golden State will undoubtedly challenge him to make free throws in pressure packed situations and test Mike D' Antoni’s choice to leave him on the floor.

3) Supporting casts: Houston needs their other players not named Harden or Paul to step up and contribute especially on offense.  PJ Tucker and Trevor Ariza are going to have to score and that is going to be a challenge with what they are being expected to do on defense. Eric Gordon is going to have to perform like the 6th man of the year and not the inconsistent man that has been erratic at best. Gordon is currently shooting 34% from the floor and 31% from downtown in this year's playoffs. That is not going to get it done against Golden State. If Gerald Green plays, he better think twice before shooting everything that touches his itchy trigger fingers. In the playoffs all possessions are more important and turnovers and missed shots are magnified. We all know Green can shoot you in and he can also shoot you out of a game and the Warriors are too good and shoot it far better than any other team Houston has seen and therefore they can't afford Green's erratic shot selection to hinder them.

4) The home court: We all know that the Rockets fought hard all year to get the home court in preparation for this very series. For as hard as the team worked to obtain that goal and set themselves up for this series, it can all be lost if they do not protect the floor in either of the first two games of this series. The Rockets could be very much like the Raptors when they lost Game 1 to the cavaliers, in that losing the home court early in this series could be demoralizing mentally for this squad.

5) Getting back in transition: Both teams like to run on offense, but how they get back on defense is going to be a huge key in this series.  Both teams have a tendency to get into it with the officials and argue calls. The difference is, the Warriors are experienced enough to know when to chat and when to get back. James Harden has a tendency to stop in the offensive end when he doesn't get a call and that will be costly against a team that shoots it as well as Golden State does.

6) Coaching and intangibles: This series could come down to which coaching staff makes better adjustments from game to game in this series. Steve Kerr is notorious for throwing wrinkles in his game plans in the postseason, whether it be starting lineup changes, defensive assignments or which rotational players see the floor from game to game. The Rockets coaching staff is going to have to be prepared and plan accordingly as they try and match wits with the ultimate Warrior and his coaches. Trash talking is also going to be part of the program and Houston is not only going to have to expect that Draymond Green and company are going to get lippy and chippy, they are going to have to rise above it, keep their composure and let their play do the talking if it is going to be a long series.

So let the games begin and may the best team win!   

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ROCKETS BEAT THUNDER

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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