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

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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These uniforms have to go. Photo via: Wiki Commons.

Major League Baseball will consider going back to having players wear their team uniforms for the All-Star Game.

Club uniforms were used by the American League from 1933-2019 and by the National League from 1934-2019. When the game resumed in 2021 following the pandemic-related cancellation in 2020, MLB had started a uniform contract with Nike and Fanatics, and All-Stars were outfitted in specially designed league uniforms that drew criticism from traditionalists.

Photo by Richard Rodriguez/Getty Images.

This year's AL uniforms had a sandy base with red sleeves and lettering and the NL had a navy base with light blue sleeves and lettering.

“I’m aware of the sentiment on this issue,” Manfred told the Baseball Writers' Association of America on Tuesday. "I think where my head is on it, it’s something we’re going to have a conversation about coming out of the All-Star Game. We've got a lot of uniform things going on. And, obviously, the conversations have to involve the players first and foremost but Nike, some of our partners. But I am aware of the sentiment, and I do know why people kind of like that tradition."

MLB and Nike were criticized for club uniforms this year and said in May that 2025 club outfits will have larger lettering on the back of jerseys and individual pant customization. Players complained this year that white pants worn by some teams are see-through enough to show tucked-in jersey tops.

Regional sports networks

Manfred said a national steaming package of local television broadcasts is a future possibility.

“I could see a situation where we grow into a 30-club model. It might start on the digital side, where you have 14 or 15 clubs, and, you start with a digital product there as your first alternative,” he said.

“I was in Sun Valley last week and I did the whole speed-dating thing with everybody who’s ever streamed anything. When you talk to people in the streaming business, they’re not really interested in buying the state of Wisconsin and two counties in Michigan," Manfred added. "They want to be able to stream quite frankly, all over the U.S. and Canada but more broadly internationally. So I think those conversations are a product of owners saying, holy cow, the RSN business is really deteriorating. We know the future’s going to be streaming. What we’re hearing from the streamers is they want a more national product, and we need to be responsive to what people want to buy.”

MLB took over production of Arizona and San Diego local television broadcasts last year following the bankruptcy of Diamond Sports’ Bally networks and said MLB will be available as an option for teams looking for new deals. He said Padres game are approaching 40,000 subscribers, which he called a good figure.

“Having said that, from a revenue perspective it is not generating what the RSNs did," Manfred said. "The RSNs were a great business. Lots of people paid for programing they didn’t necessarily want. And it’s hard to replicate that kind of revenue absent that kind of bundling concept.”

Offense

While offense is near half-century lows, it has picked up from early in the season.

“The decline in offense is something that we’re paying a lot of attention to and we’ll continue to monitor to make a decision as to whether we think we need to do something. You do hear a lot of chatter about the dominance of pitching in the game. That’s absolutely true.”

Birmingham

After the success of the June 20 game between San Francisco and St. Louis at Rickwood Field, Manfred said MLB will return to the ballpark in Birmingham, Alabama, but the “exact form” had not been determined.

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