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Warriors vs. Rockets, Western Conference Finals predictions: Klay Thompson key for Golden State

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Once again, the SB Nation national team asked GSoM a set of questions to add fan insight to their preview of the Western Conference Finals. We used those same questions as the basis for a roundtable preview of the series.

Kyle Terada-USA TODAY Sports

The Golden State Warriors begin their series against the Houston Rockets tonight and it's time to put our reps on the line once again with some predictions.

Andy Liu already broke down the matchup in depth in his series preview yesterday, but here we take a set of questions that the SB Nation national staff asked us for their preview as the basis for a roundtable analysis of things.

Our ever-changing panel:

  • Andrew Flohr
  • Apricot
  • Arno Ferguson
  • Bram Kincheloe
  • Conrad Chow
  • Jared Stearne

Again, this got so long as is that I opted out, but I'll include my prediction as well as Andy's from his preview near the end for good measure.

1. What do you think is your team's biggest advantage in this series?

Andrew Flohr: The Golden State Warriors biggest advantage is Stephen Curry, hands down. The Rockets are without Patrick Beverley, who is one of their best on ball defenders. The Rockets will have to get creative in figuring out a way to try and stop Curry.

No other player in the league can stretch a defense in such a way. No one else is hitting 70 foot swishes to close out quarters. -Bram Kincheloe on Steph Curry.

Apricot: The W's defense scheme is optimized to take away exactly the only shots the Rox offense is built to take: 3s, layups and free throws. In the regular season matchups, the Rockets offense consisted of inefficient post ups by Dwight (which Bogut played very well), with mostly Harden freelancing for step-back 3s (which Klay did not let him do) and dishing when the D collapses (which the Ws D did not) to spot up shooters (passes the Ws deflected and intercepted in the lanes). It's an ugly offense at its best (#12 in O Rating this season).

Arno Ferguson: Perimeter offense vs. perimeter defense. The Rockets are going to miss Patrick Beverley, so health is in there too. After getting hounded by a bionic Conley and Mr. First-Team-All-Defense, the Splash Bros could have a field day.

Bram Kincheloe: There's no point in denying it anymore: the Warriors' biggest advantage is, and always has been, Stephen Curry. No other player in the league can stretch a defense in such a way. No one else is hitting 70 foot swishes to close out quarters. He's a threat from every single spot on the floor.

Conrad Chow: Multiple scoring options is the Warriors' biggest advantage. We know that James Harden can score and get to the line, but Houston will have a tough time defending the Splash Brothers effectively with Patrick Beverley presumably out for the series. Along with the emergence of Harrison Barnes and Draymond Green's floor spacing ability, the Rockets are going to be in a tough situation defensively.

Jared Stearne: The Warriors' defense is by far the best that the Rockets have faced this postseason. While H-Town has dealt with two elite offenses this far (Dallas and Los Angeles) contending with the Dubs stoppers could be a shock to their system.

2. What do you think is your team's biggest disadvantage in this series?

Andrew Flohr: I don't feel like the Warriors have very many disadvantages in this series, but if I had to make one up, I guess one could say the Rockets are playing with a chip on their shoulder at this point in the season. They showed a lot of resilience overcoming a 3-1 series deficit against the Clippers (who crumbled like a house of cards) and will be taking on the role of the underdog in this series. The Warriors can't get complacent else they will be in for a dog fight.

Apricot: First, in theory, the Rockets offense can attack via Harden-Howard pick and rolls, daring either Bogut to stay with Howard (he can't), Green to play DH and stay out of foul trouble (a challenge), or the Warriors to ICE the pick and roll letting Harden have the midrange 2 (which he can hit). I would run this play every time, but up until these playoffs, DH has hated being the roll man. Second, the W's have not seen the Rockets in the mature Josh Smith Era. He is a solid athletic defender and can pass high-low with Howard for lob dunks (using the Blake-DeAndre playbook).

Arno Ferguson: James Harden's ability to draw fouls. With his rip-through and lean-in moves, as well as his physical drives to the basket (and histrionics), he has the potential to take someone like Klay Thompson out for significant stretches. Andrew Bogut and Draymond Green could run into problems as well, depending on how often they have to help. If they're down in the series, will Kevin McHale encourage switches so Stephen Curry might pick up fouls?

Bram Kincheloe: It's hard to say. Both teams are inexperienced at this level. Both teams play fast and loose, taking and hitting a lot of three pointers. Both have strong interior defensive presences in Bogut and Howard. Really, where they differ, is in free throw attempts per game. James Harden drives to make contact much of the time, and is rewarded with an unending parade of trips to the charity stripe. If the FT disparity gets out of hand, some of these game might get ugly.

Conrad Chow: Playoff experience could be the Warriors' biggest disadvantage but even that hasn't seemed to hinder their performance thus far. They've played with composure even after losing two straight games. Meanwhile, the Rockets are going to play with a chip on their shoulder as the underdog in this series. Harden and Howard have been to the NBA Finals so they know what what it takes to get back there.

Jared Stearne: Dwight Howard is the most athletic, physically dominant center in the league, and the Rockets pick and roll could be a bear to slow down. Even Bogut will have trouble with Howard in space, and if he gets into foul trouble early in any game, things could get interesting.

3. Which player needs to step his game up most for your team to win?

Andrew Flohr: Klay Thompson has been playing at an elite level all season and will need to continue that level of play against the Rockets as his defensive prowess will be needed to keep James Harden at bay. I am sure the Dubs will give Harden different looks, but I would expect to see Klay matching up with Harden for a majority of time.

Andrew Bogut will need to be the snarling, snapping beast he was against the Denver Nuggets a couple years ago if the Warriors want a short series. -Jared Stearne

Apricot: The Rockets start Terry and Harden who are not plus defenders. If Ariza guards Curry, Terry/Harden will have to guard Barnes and Klay. The Ws need to win those matchups.

Arno Ferguson: Steve Kerr and his staff. He used to play right? If the Warriors don't get out-coached, the Rockets will have a hard time coming out on top. If the Warriors come out to play every night, and make any adjustments needed to take advantage of Houston's flaws, this could be a very quick series.

Bram Kincheloe: Again, I think a lot of responsibility falls on Klay Thompson. We've seen that as he struggles, the team struggles. When he is locked in and scoring at a high level, the Warriors are almost unstoppable.

Conrad Chow: It's going to start with MVP Stephen Curry and how he takes advantage of Beverley's absence. Even with Beverley defending him in the regular season, Curry still put up remarkable numbers. Curry needs to step up, set the tone and take over quarters much like he did in the Memphis series.

Jared Stearne: Andrew Bogut will need to be the snarling, snapping beast he was against the Denver Nuggets a couple years ago if the Warriors want a short series. As far as the rest of the Dubs, they just need to play as well as they did to close out the Grizzlies.

4. What is your series prediction and why?

Andrew Flohr: Warriors in 5 games. The Rockets and Warriors both play similar styles of basketball, but I would have to say that the pace will benefit the Warriors more. I will throw away a game where the Warriors get in foul trouble and/or where the Rockets make tough shots. The homer in me says the Warriors will sweep, but I will just call that wishful thinking.

Apricot: If HOU gets Bogut/Green in foul trouble (via Howard pick and roll or otherwise), they will need to make runs. If HOU tries to blitz double-team Curry, they will need to rotate extremely well -- by the end of the year, the W's were handling the best blitz in the league (the Clippers') well, and no one has since successfully disrupted the W's with the double teams -- or Harden/Terry have to have the defensive series of their lives. In games that the Warriors have 15+ TOs, the Rockets need to convert those into a big edge in fast break points. In games that HOU shoots well from 3, they need to win those games. If Curry or other starters get injured, HOU needs to win those games. I predict HOU doesn't win any games without one of those things happening, and I don't see that happening four games out of seven. GSW will win the series.

Arno Ferguson: Warriors in 5. Houston is not a team that can take the Warriors out of their game. Expect more joy in the Dubs' steps as they once again enjoy their brand of basketball to the fullest. The Rockets will have a game or two where they play well, and the Warriors still come out on top.

Bram Kincheloe: It'll be an entirely different set of challenges than the Memphis series, but Steve Kerr and his staff (along with the players) have shown they are more than capable of adjusting mid-series. I think the Rockets manage two wins, but in the end, the Warriors move on to the finals. Warriors in six.

Conrad Chow: As the heavy favorites, Golden State has the edge on both ends of the floor. Their ability to guard both the perimeter and interior will create havoc while their offensive system has been fluid throughout the post-season. Even if they have a horrible shooting night, this series could end in a blur. Warriors in five.

Jared Stearne: Warriors in 5. The Rockets are a good team playing better than ever, but I'm struggling to find a reason to pick them. Their offense is less efficient, they don't defend nearly as well, they don't rebound well, and they turn it over more. And their style of basketball plays right into Golden State's strength.

Andy Liu: The Rockets need multiple things to go right, and while some are more likely than others, the probabilities of those things happening go down as several need to happen for a win. For the Warriors, there's a much lesser margin for error. They'll have much less trouble on offense, and their defense is actually suited to play the run-and-run high-variance style the Rockets will surely install to get this series all funky and unpredictable. Golden State Warriors in 4. (Click here to see Andy's full series preview)

Nate P: The biggest problem I see for Houston in this series, as others alluded to above, is the issue of defending Curry and hiding Harden. Without Patrick Beverley in this series, that becomes a dilemma that I just don't see how they solve. And their performance for much of the the Clippers series doesn't inspire much confidence that they can figure that out before heading home. I'll say this will be Warriors in five, but the main reason for that is simply to account for another Warriors lull or some other fluke occurrence that gets the Rockets a win.