Western Conference Finals preview

Today is the start of the Western Conference Finals and I wanted to give my thoughts on the series.

After the smoke cleared off the second round battles, we saw that in the end, in both Conferences, seeds 1&2 are the ones that are meeting in both Conference Finals.
But, while in Eastern Conference, seed 2 is the heavy favorite, in Western Conference Finals, bookies see the Warriors as absolute favorites to advance to the NBA Finals.

Warriors keys to the series

For Warriors to win, they just need to play their basketball. They are the better team by far than the Rockets, they swept them 4 – 0 in regular season, all wins were by double digits, so they don’t need to reinvent the wheel, just keep the wheels from falling off.
If we will assume that Splash brothers have a huge advantage in this series, I would point out Warriors front court as the key here in three different ways.
1) Foul trouble. GSW usually struggles when one of two of their starting big guys are in foul trouble, especially Green. Warriors numbers with him on the floor are way higher and better than minutes when he is on the bench. Getting one of them in to foul trouble, will be one of Rockets keys to the series, so this is the opposite – Kerr needs to find ways to help them, when they are picking up their second or third fouls too early in the game.
2) Green is an all around player in the widest way possible. There is nothing he can’t do at least on a passable level. Bogut on the other hand, has things he is great in (rim protection and setting screens) and has things he is bad in (guarding small players and his limited offense). If Bogut will be in the paint with Dwight, they will serious clogg the paint. If Bogut goes out of the box, Dwight has no reason to follow him, since Bogut won’t shoot far from the basket. Kerr needs to find a way to get Dwight out of the box and there is a simple solution to that and that is, to make Bogut set screens. If Dwight left in the paint, then a simple screen, will leave Curry/ Thompson wide open for a jump shot from mid range or three point line and that will be deadly, so Dwight will be forced to go after Bogut, to make a switch, if needed and if Dwight is away from the paint, it will be much easier for Warriors players to go inside and it will be much easier for Green to get that offensive rebound.
3) With all the respect to Harden, Dwight was the best player in the series against Clippers, together with Josh Smith (and Brewer with Ariza after that). Green and Bogut (and sadly Lee) will have to make sure, that they don’t carry the momentum in to the series with the Warriors, by stopping them both from getting the rebounds and from making easy baskets.
If the big guys get it rolling for the Rockets, it will be decided by Rockets three point shooters that will find themselves suddenly way too open than they should be.

Other keys

Another two keys in my eyes should be Warriors percentage from three point mark and Warriors second unit on defense.
Warriors struggled a lot against Memphis in games where they couldn’t get it going behind the arc.
Houston shot more three pointer than GSW in regular season, but GSW shot them at better percentage.
Rockets have their defensive holes and if Warriors will use them correctly, Rockets will just have to choose their poison.
The other key is Warriors second unit defense.
One of the reasons why Rockets won the series against the Clippers, was terrible Clippers second unit, especially on defense. Clippers had the worst defensive second unit in the leauge, with Rivers, Crawford, Hawes and Davis as their subs and with Davis as your best off a bench defender, you can’t go far.
On the other hand, GSW have Lee who is a bad defender on the bench, but also they got Livingston and Iggy – two above average defenders and with Speights out, Ezeli is getting some minutes as well and he is also a good defender.
In Games 5 – 7 in the previous round, Rockets bench was the difference maker, including the amazing +/- results for Brewer, Jones and Prigioni in Game 7 (+11, +16 and +20).
I expect Warriors second unit not match them, if not overall, than at least on the defensive end.

Rockets keys to the series

1) Getting Green in to foul trouble. I already wrote everything about it, so I won’t repeat it, but it’s really crucial element for them. On top of that, Dwight will be on Bogut, so there is no reason for him to get in any sort of foul trouble.
2) Find an answer for Prigioni/ Terry problem. Assuming that McHale won’t suddenly start with Brewer (which is an option he should at least consider), Rockets have to find a way that will prevent the Warriors to exploit Terry/ Prigioni (and partially Harden) on defense. Rockets back court has to face Splash brothers and while Ariza surely will take one, the question remains who will take the other. I assume that Harden will be on Barnes (which can open a chance for Barnes to go hard for offensive rebounds) – so when Brewer is still on the bench, it means that Terry/ Prigioni will have to guard the other Splash brother (the one that Ariza doesn’t guard).
One solution is to start Brewer, but I doubt McHale will go there and it will weaken the bench and bring the level of defense of the second unit to Clippers level more or less.
Other options… Well… I don’t know… That’s why I’m picking GSW to win the series.
3) To keep Warriors close. Warriors are 53 – 0 this season, in games where at one point they had 15+ points lead. That shouldn’t sound obvious, just ask the Clippers. But actually, in this playoff alone, almost every team (that isn’t the Warriors) had lost 15+ points lead at one time or another. Warriors are a team that can go from a tied game to +15 in 2 – 3 minutes and after that, they won’t be caught in a draught that will allow their rival a comeback.
That’s so special about them. They have amazing offense and you can’t erase such a big deficit, without stopping your rival’s offense and you just can’t do it against the Warriors.
Obviously there will be a game at some point of this roster, where they will lead by 15+ points and yet lose. Probably not this season, but sooner or later…
Still, Rockets allowed 19 points deficit against the Clippers once and twice 12 points deficit against Clippers and Dallas in this playoffs. If they want to go past the Warriors, they really need to avoid falling in to such deficits.

Series expactations:

This is first seed against second seed. League’s MVP against it’s runner up.
Rockets had one of the biggest comebacks in NBA Playoffs history in order to get there. Warriors cruised their way in, though they had few rough matches during their playoff run.
Rockets come carried on a huge momentum builder, with Brewer, Ariza and Smith playing at the highest level of their career.
This should be a series with really high scores and some really fun moments and it will be interesting to see, if it will develop in to a rivalry as GSW had with the Clippers following last’s year series.
Harden claimed GSW are not that good back in January and I think it will come to bite him in the ass in May.

Prediction

Too many things have to happen for Rockets to have a shot here. Warriors bigs have to be in foul trouble and one of the Splash Brothers needs to have a really bad series for Rockets to even compete here.
Warriors one of the Top 3 defensive teams in the league and the best offensive team in the league.
Regular season doesn’t mean much, but in this case, Warriors sweeping the regular season series, all by double digits, was a tell.
Warriors will probably lose one game, but not more than that.
GSW to win the series 4 – 1, 2.80 odds – 9 units play – 5Dimes
GSW to win the series 4 – 0, 4.00 odds – 3 units play – 5Dimes

As always, if you got any question, comment or anything else, will be glad to discuss or answer. Please email to bmanidv@gmail.com

Best of luck everybody!!!

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