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