Entering the Conference Finals, the Warriors have emerged as the odds-on favorites to win the NBA title. However, Golden State must first solve Houston in order to advance to the NBA Finals.
In the regular season, the Warriors easily handled the Rockets in all four matchups, winning by double-figures in each game. The average margin in those Golden State victories was 19 points. Nevertheless, the NBA playoffs itself is a whole new dimension. Via Mercury News, head coach Steve Kerr had this to say after Sunday's practice:
It's different in the playoffs. We saw Memphis three times, saw New Orleans four times, but they looked different in the playoffs. Every series presents a different challenge, but when you get to the conference finals whoever you're playing is playing with a lot of confidence, playing well. It'll be a big challenge
The Rockets come into this series high on confidence after overcoming a 3-1 series deficit. However, the Warriors' confidence should not be understated as they blew out Memphis by double digits in all games they won.
In regular season matchups, Golden State did a remarkable job of disrupting James Harden and that should remain the focal point for this series. In particular, Klay Thompson was a menace on the defensive end, forcing Harden to over-dribble and into double-teams and/or turnovers.
Harden's production was down against the Warriors across the board compared to against the entire league. In four games vs. Golden State, Harden averaged 25.3 points, 5.5 rebounds, 5.3 assists on 40% field goal percentage and 24% three-point percentage compared to 27.4 points, 5.7 rebounds, 7.0 assists on 44% field goal percentage and 38% three-point percentage per ESPN.
Via Diamond Leung of Bay Area News Group
James Harden total plus-minus in four games against the Warriors this season is -54.— Diamond Leung (@diamond83) May 18, 2015
The Warriors ability to make James Harden ineffective was key to their regular season success. On top of that, Stephen Curry played phenomenal basketball against Houston this season. The MVP averaged 25.8 points, 8.3 assists, and 6.5 rebounds and more importantly shot 58% from the field and 52% from the three-point line according to ESPN.
Since Patrick Beverley is unlikely to suit up in the Western Conference Finals, Curry will have a greater opportunity to do even more damage on the offensive end this time around. The Rockets are in a tricky situation as they would like to utilize Trevor Ariza on Curry but that would leave either Harden or Terry to guard Thompson.
For the Warriors, Marreese Speights will be out according to Rusty Simmons of the San Francisco Chronicle. Without Speights, expect David Lee to continue filling in for the injured power forward. Lee played well in two regular season games against Houston and could definitely make an impact on this series. In one of his best regular season games, Lee had 18 points and eight boards to contribute to Golden State's 131-106 blowout win in January.
Instead of matching up with behemoths like Marc Gasol or Zach Randolph, Lee should be in for a more favorable matchup against Terrence Jones or Josh Smith. When Dwight Howard is sitting, Lee will have a sufficient amount of space to get into the lane and work inside with the bench unit.
This series will definitely be more offensive-oriented but the Rockets may have a tough time going toe-to-toe with Golden State's pace and three-point play. The Warriors unquestionably have the advantage in many aspects. This should be a fun one.