Ever since last year’s Western Conference Finals between the Golden State Warriors and Houston Rockets ended, most have thought this. If it weren’t for a Chris Paul hamstring injury in game five, the Rockets would’ve dethroned the Warriors en route to the NBA finals. Now, a year later, let’s run it back. They’ll meet again Sunday in Oakland at 3:30 PM EST on ABC. It’s time to preview the anticipated matchup everyone’s been looking forward to.

Houston Rockets Breakdown

The Rockets come into this series, still confident that they can beat the Warriors. In the regular season series, they went 3-1 against them, winning two of the three contests at Oracle Arena. Also, they’re confident because since the arrival of Paul last season (including playoffs), the Rockets are 8-6 against the Warriors.

The Rockets will come into Sunday’s contest rested after defeating the Utah Jazz in five games. Obviously, the talk is always centered around Houston’s offensive attack, which is led by reigning MVP James Harden. But some are forgetting how good they can be defensively. Ever since the All-Star break, the Rockets are second in defensive efficiency. Glimpses of that were shown in their 100-93 close out win against the Jazz.

Rockets Must Improve Their Defense And Get Contributions From Others

However, the Rockets do have to shore up their defense against the Warriors. For them to have a shot to dethrone the two-time defending champions, they have to stay connected defensively. That’s something they didn’t do at times against Utah. According to Second Spectrum Data, the Jazz generated the most open looks in the first round, but made only 26% of their wide open threes.

The Rockets know the Jazz aren’t the Warriors, and they have to take their game to another level. They’re going to need Harden to elevate his game even more. In the last three games against Utah, he shot 32.3% from the field, which isn’t going to cut it. Paul also is going to have to play big like he did last year against the Warriors before his injury.

Clint Capela came out and said that he wanted to face the Warriors and Capela and the Rockets have their wish. Their motto has been “run it back” since Paul re-signed with Houston last summer. They’re going to need P.J. Tucker, who’s expected to be the primary defender on Kevin Durant, to come up big. If they can get consistent contributions from Austin Rivers, Gerald Green, Eric Gordon, Kenneth Faried, and Danuel House, they have a shot to knock off the champs.

Golden State Warriors Breakdown

The Warriors enter the showdown with the Rockets with more questions than answers. Stephen Curry tweaked his right ankle in their 129-110 win to eliminate the Los Angeles Clippers in six games. However, the Warriors have Durant, who’s playing his best stretch of basketball this season after their game two collapse.

Ever since Durant told the media “I’m Kevin Durant. You know who I am. Y’all know who I am”, he’s been on a tear. In games 3-6 against the Clippers, he scored 38, 33, 45, and 50 respectively to help the Warriors advance. With Curry and Klay Thompson both dealing with ankle injuries (twisted ankle), they just might need Durant to shoulder the load again.

The Warriors also need Draymond Green to be the defensive ace/playmaker that he’s known to be and to control his emotions. Also, they could catch a break knowing DeMarcus Cousins, who injured his quad in game two against the Clippers, won’t be available. The Rockets, like other teams, were going to make sure to attack Cousins in the pick and roll action, having him defend on the perimeter which would open driving lanes to the rim.

Kevon Looney has had some success in the past when he’s on the perimeter, especially when he’s switched onto Harden. Looney has made him work and utilizes his length very well. As for the Warriors bench, they don’t have the perimeter snipers the Rockets have, but they can’t be ignored. Andre Iguodala, Shaun Livingston, Quinn Cook, Andrew Bogut or Looney (depending who starts), and Alfonzo McKinnie are going to be counted on to produce.

Warriors Are Going To Have To Be Patient With The Rockets Switching

It’s well known that the Rockets, whether if it’s offensively or defensively, love to switch. They love to seek out the mismatches and the Warriors are going to have to be patient with it or else they’ll get exploited. The Utah series is an example when it comes to the offensive side of the ball. When Harden saw Royce O’Neale guarding him, he made sure to give Paul the ball so they could seek Ricky Rubio out. Harden got the matchup with Rubio and went to work, which is what they’ll definitely look to do against Curry.

Now, when it comes to the defensive side of the ball, the Warriors definitely should be able to have success. The Rockets are going to bait the Warriors to play one on one basketball, having Durant try to beat them instead of Curry and Thompson. If Golden State doesn’t let Houston’s constant defensive switching get to them, they’ll be able to get good looks from 3-point range or on simple cuts to the basket.

As stated earlier, the primary defender on Durant will be Tucker. But with the Rockets switching, Paul or perhaps Harden could end up on him, which is what Houston wants. The Warriors are still one of the best teams in the league when the ball is moving side to side. If they keep the ball moving, it’s likely going to be a struggle for the Rockets because they’ll be able to get any shot they want.

Rockets/Warriors Prediction

Obviously, this series can be dissected and predicted until the cows come home. But in the Rockets/Warriors showdown II, there must be a winner. This series, like last year’s seven game classic, has a chance to go seven once again. Both teams know each other very well and it shouldn’t be a lot of surprises.

Also, the Rockets have been confident that they’re the team that’s going to dethrone the two-time defending champs. The Warriors have had some slippage defensively, which the Clippers exploited at times in the first round. Golden State has also been battling mental fatigue, with Houston zeroing in on them since Paul joined them in 2017. Those factors, along with Durant’s pending free agency hanging over the Warriors franchise, just might catch up to them against a hungry and determined Rockets team.

Prediction: Rockets in Six

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