WESTERN CONFERENCE FINALS

A position-by-position breakdown of Rockets-Warriors

The Chris Paul-James Harden duo has been terrific. Tim Warren/Getty Images

"We are used to long odds. If Golden State makes the odds longer, we might up our risk profile and get even more aggressive. We have something up our sleeve."

--Daryl Morey, June 13, 2017

Eleven months ago, Rockets’ General Manager Daryl Morey smugly hinted at what would turn out to be the biggest blockbuster trade in franchise history since Houston dealt for Tracy McGrady in 2004.

Fifteen days later, the Rockets were completing a trade for presumptive Hall of Fame point guard, Chris Paul. Critics claimed that Houston was desperate. They were reaching.

Fast forward now, and the Rockets sit atop the regular season standings ready to host the defending world champion Golden State Warriors on Monday. Houston took the season series against Golden State, but it would be foolish to assume that the Rockets are a lock based on that alone.

This Houston team has been specifically crafted to take down the Warriors and now it’s time to see if all of the analytics finally push the Rockets back into a Finals series for the first time in 23 years. Let’s take a look at how each team stacks up by position.

Point Guard: Chris Paul vs Stephen Curry

Advantage: Curry

In years past Curry wins the point guard matchup against the Rockets running away, but this a different story. Paul is edged by Curry but only slightly. Paul is more valuable on the defensive end and creates less turnovers, but the offensive edge remains in Curry’s favor. Paul’s pull up mid range shot will be instrumental in keeping Golden State’s defense honest. Limiting Curry’s open looks will be imperative to Houston’s success

Shooting Guard: James Harden vs Klay Thompson

Advantage: Harden

Thompson is one of the deadlier shooters in the league, but in a straight one-for-one comparison Harden is clearly superior. These two probably won't match up on one another very often throughout the series, as I expect Andre Iguodala to be tasked with the chore of containing Harden. Thompson has the tools to score from all over the court, however, and sleeping on him would be costly. Both players are star talents, but Harden will be the bigger challenge to contain.

Small Forward: Trevor Ariza vs Kevin Durant

Advantage: Durant

It can be argued that Kevin Durant is the best scorer in the league. He’s simply too big at his position to be guarded by an average sized wing. Trevor Ariza, while regarded by most as an above average defender, will not be able to guard him on his own. The Rockets switch player assignments on defense a ton, so it will likely come down to how well center Clint Capela can stay in front of him when they’re inevitably matched up on certain plays. The best you can hope for is that Ariza plays an efficient game and possibly surprises everyone with one or two hot nights from three point range, but no one is realistically leaning on him to carry us to the next round.

Power Forward: PJ Tucker vs Draymond Green

Advantage: Green

This is going to be my favorite match up to watch. Both players are their teams respective enforcers, and both are absolute bulldogs. Tucker is Houston’s version of Green; a fierce defender with range and the ability to bang down low in the paint. But Tucker isn’t quite as good as Green. Tucker may be more reliable from range, but Green’s inside game, passing ability, and rebounding are far better. I expect a few dustups between these two, but if Tucker isn’t hitting from range, Green runs away with this match up.

Center: Clint Capela vs JaVale McGee

Advantage: Capela

Capela is going to be the X-factor in this series. As he performs defensively, so too will the Rockets. I understand that Harden and Paul are integral to the Rockets success this round, but the deciding factor outside of them has been Capela’s versatility. JaVale McGee is really the only starter on the Warriors that is simply a role player. The Warriors have been playing small ball as well, so he hasn’t even been starting in the playoffs. It will be up to Capela to keep up with their smaller lineup and force them to go bigger if the Rockets plan on evening the field. If Capela struggles, Houston could get shot out of the gym in a hurry.

Bench Advantage: Push

In past seasons, this is where the Warriors would unveil their embarrassment of riches. Golden State has plenty of firepower off the bench, but this season so does Houston. Before, the Rockets’ bench was full of young players with potential and a few role players. Now, it houses a group of hungry veterans in Luc Mbah a Moute, Eric Gordon, Gerald Green, and Nene. Houston’s bench will need to produce offensively to maintain the tempo while the starters rest in order to have a shot. Eric Gordon will need to be dialed in as well, as he’s struggled in the past two series to get going.

Houston has played some great basketball lately, but there have also been moments where they’ve loosened up with big leads and allowed inferior teams to remain competitive. The time for that has passed, and the Rockets will need to play four quarters of the the best basketball they have to offer in order to pull out this series. I’m personally of the opinion that this matchup is the “de facto” championship because I see these two teams as the best in basketball. But I view Golden State as the better team in these Western Conference Finals. I do see the possibility of a Rockets series victory, don’t get me wrong. If I’m forced to make a pick, however, I can’t go against the champs until I see someone dethrone them. I believe, however, that the Rockets have the best chance to take them down out of any other team remaining. Either way, I anticipate this series to go down as one of the best in recent history.


 

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Watson's accusers appeared on Real Sports on Tuesday night. Photo by Nick Cammett/Getty Images.

HBO Real Sports with Bryant Gumbel’s heavily promoted and much anticipated examination of Deshaun Watson’s legal mess involving alleged sexual misconduct shed little new light and merely presented a summary of well worn he said/she (x22) said accusations and denials.

The episode debuted Tuesday night on the premium cable service and will be repeated dozens of times throughout the week on HBO’s platforms. Check your local listings for times and channel.

The segment was hosted by Soledad O’Brien who presented compelling face-to-face interviews with two of the quarterback’s accusers: massage therapists Ashley Solis and Kyla Hayes. Their stories were detailed and graphic. Both cried during the interviews.

Solis: “As I’m working, he deliberately grabs himself and put his penis on my hand. I pulled my hand away instantly and I started crying. I told that I’m done. I don’t want to do this anymore.”

Solis said she felt threatened when Watson, before leaving the session, allegedly told her: “I know you have a career to protect, and I know that you don’t want anyone messing with it, just like I don’t want anyone messing with mine.”

Solis added, “That’s when I got really scared because that sounded like a threat to me.”

Hayes: “He wanted me to kind of make a V motion in his pelvic area. I just kept massaging and did what he asked, until his penis kept touching me repeatedly as I did it.”

Hayes said that Watson had an orgasm, which she said was “mortifying, embarrassing and disgusting.”

O’Brien asked Hayes why she continued to have contact via email with Watson after their encounter.

Hayes: "I wasn't sure what he was capable of. He could've physically assaulted me. He could've bashed my business, so I had to protect myself and my business the best way I saw fit. Did I ever see him again after that? No. Did I give him the runaround? Yes."

O’Brien pointed out that two separate grand juries in Texas heard criminal accusations against Watson and neither found enough evidence to indict him.

Solis and Hayes, and 20 other massage therapists have filed civil suits against Watson. The cases aren’t expected to reach a courtroom until next March. Both sides could reach a settlement before then which would effectively shut down any legal action against Watson. However, both sides say they aren’t interested in any pretrial settlements. That’s what they say now, anyway.

After being banished to the sidelines for the 2021 season by the Houston Texans, Watson signed a historic, 5-year fully guaranteed $230 million contract with the Cleveland Browns.

Hayes said she feels Watson “is being rewarded for bad behavior." Solis said, "It's just like a big screw you. That's what it feels like. That we (the Browns) don't care. He can run and throw, and that's what we care about.”

Watson currently is participating in preseason workouts with the Browns and, at the moment, is cleared to play the upcoming NFL season.

That is unless the NFL suspends Watson for some, most or all of the 2022 season. NFL commissioner Roger Goodell has said the league is nearing completion of its independent investigation into Watson’s case and will reach a decision “shortly,” probably this summer. The NFL and NFL Players Association mutually agreed to have former U.S. District Judge Sue Robinson decide whether or not Watson violated the league’s Personal Conduct Policy and what discipline should be handed down if he did.

The Browns are scheduled to play the Texans on Dec. 4 at NRG Stadium in Houston.

O’Brien said, while producing the Real Sports piece, she tried to interview Watson, his attorneys and the Cleveland Browns for their side of the story. All declined.

During a press conference in March to announce his joining the Browns, Watson denied any inappropriate behavior with the massage therapists.

Watson: “I never assaulted any woman. I’ve never disrespected any woman. I was raised to be genuine and respect everyone around me. I’ve never done the thing that these people are alleging. My mom and my aunties didn’t raise me that way.”

Leah Graham, a member of Watson’s legal team, sat for an interview after O’Brien’s segment was complete.

Graham: "It's 22 women. It's one lawyer. There's only one lawyer who was willing to take these cases. And as we know from Ashley Solis’ deposition, Mr. (Houston attorney Tony) Buzbee was not the first, probably not the second or third lawyer she went to, but he was the only one to take her case. Why? Not because it had merit, but because he would use these cases to increase his social media following and quite frankly to get on shows like this one.”

My reaction after watching the Real Sports segment? We weren’t in the room when the massage therapists worked on Watson. We weren’t in the grand jury room when evidence against Watson was presented. We don’t know what happened. We don’t know what will happen if these cases go to trial.

Until then all we have is one big, lurid, embarrassing mess. In American courtrooms, defendants are presumed innocent. That’s often the opposite in the court of public opinion. We’ll just have to wait while the wheels of justice grind painfully slow.

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