NBA

Legacies on the line in NBA's Western Conference finals

 
 
Updated 5/13/2018 6:15 PM
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  • FILE - In this Jan. 20, 2018, file photo, Golden State Warriors forward Draymond Green (23) reacts after scoring against the Houston Rockets during the second half of an NBA basketball game, in Houston. The buildup to this Golden State-Houston matchup in the Western Conference finals started in February, when Draymond Green had some pointed comments. Or in October, when the Rockets beat the Warriors on ring night. Or in June, when Chris Paul got traded. Whatever the case, the series that everyone in the NBA apparently wanted to see is about to happen.

    FILE - In this Jan. 20, 2018, file photo, Golden State Warriors forward Draymond Green (23) reacts after scoring against the Houston Rockets during the second half of an NBA basketball game, in Houston. The buildup to this Golden State-Houston matchup in the Western Conference finals started in February, when Draymond Green had some pointed comments. Or in October, when the Rockets beat the Warriors on ring night. Or in June, when Chris Paul got traded. Whatever the case, the series that everyone in the NBA apparently wanted to see is about to happen.

  • Houston Rockets guard Chris Paul (3) and James Harden celebrate the team's win over the Utah Jazz during Game 5 of an NBA basketball second-round playoff series, Tuesday, May 8, 2018, in Houston.

    Houston Rockets guard Chris Paul (3) and James Harden celebrate the team's win over the Utah Jazz during Game 5 of an NBA basketball second-round playoff series, Tuesday, May 8, 2018, in Houston.

Are the defending champion Golden State Warriors ready to roll again after getting Steph Curry back from a knee injury, or are James Harden, Chris Paul and the Houston Rockets about to make a significant breakthrough? Warriors vs. Rockets in the Western Conference finals has a chance to be one of the most entertaining NBA playoff series in recent memory. Here's a preview:

Houston (1) vs. Golden State (2)

Western Conference finals schedule:

Game 1: Monday at Houston (8 p.m. TNT)

Game 2: Wednesday at Houston (8 p.m. TNT)

Game 3: Sunday, May 20, at Oakland (7 p.m. TNT)

Game 4: Tuesday, May 22, at Oakland (8 p.m. TNT)

* Game 5: Thursday, May 24, at Houston (8 p.m. TNT)

* Game 6: Saturday, May 26, at Oakland (8 p.m. TNT)

* Game 7: Monday, May 28, at Houston (8 p.m. TNT)

* If necessary

Season series:

Rockets: 2-1

Oct. 17, 2017 at GSW: Rockets 122, Warriors 121

Jan. 4, 2018 at Houston: Warriors 124, Rockets 114

Jan. 20, 2018 at Houston: Rockets 116, Warriors 108

Playoff path:

Rockets defeated Minnesota 4-1, Utah 4-1; Warriors defeated San Antonio 4-1, New Orleans 4-1.

Top playoff scorers:

Houston: James Harden 28.5 ppg, Chris Paul 21.8; Golden State: Kevin Durant 28.0 ppg, Steph Curry 24.5.

Main storyline:

A couple of Houston Rockets are fighting a reputation of playoff failures -- point guard Chris Paul and head coach Mike D'Antoni. They'll be trying to reach the Finals for the first time while top scorer James Harden will try to prove he really is the league's most valuable player.

Golden State can stake a claim as one of the NBA's great dynasties by winning a third title in four years. The Warriors seemed to concede the top seed to Houston and are getting back on track after losing Steph Curry to a knee injury late in the regular season and into the first round of playoffs.

Filling it up:

This should be an exciting series for anyone who enjoys watching the scoreboard light up.

Golden State and Houston ranked 1-2, respectively, in scoring during regular season, both averaging more than 112 points per game. The Rockets ranked No. 1 by a wide margin in 3-point attempts per game with 42.3. Houston's 3-point attempts and percentage are down slightly so far in the playoffs with Eric Gordon (31.4 percent), in particular, feeling off-target.

X-factors:

For Houston, it's probably center Clint Capela, who has improved on his regular-season numbers with 14.4 points, 12.2 rebounds and 2.8 blocks in the playoffs. But veteran P.J. Tucker has also been dangerous, shooting 46 percent from 3-point range.

Golden State has featured most of the usual suspects so far, but coach Steve Kerr has given third-year forward Kevon Looney more minutes in the playoffs, giving the Warriors another active defender.

Dearth of defense:

Believe it or not, Houston and Golden State rank second and third in fewest points allowed in the playoffs, behind Indiana.

The Warriors are No. 1 in defensive field-goal percentage, which has been a staple since Kerr took over as head coach. Will this series come down to which team plays better defense or who makes more clutch shots?

Jeff Bzdelik, the Prospect High School grad and former Denver Nuggets head coach, was brought on board to help sculpt the Rockets' improved defense. But Golden State's playoff-tested lineup, especially with everyone healthy, is difficult to beat.

Prediction:

Warriors in 6

•Twitter: @McGrawDHBulls

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