2018 Western Conference Finals Preview and Predictions

By Salman Ali on April 10, 2018

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The series we've been waiting for since Chris Paul was traded to the Houston Rockets back in June of 2017 is finally here. Ever since Daryl Morey proclaimed that the Warriors weren't completely invincible, everyone marked their calendars for this matchup and we're finally going to get it.

Time to make some painful predictions that we might come to regret later.

(1) Rockets Vs. (2) Warriors


Explain your pick.

Salman Ali: This series has the ceiling of being an all-timer. Unfortunately, the Warriors have built up so much trust equity with media (and myself) to make it damn near impossible to pick against them. This series should be closer than most people think, home court advantage will favor the Rockets, but it's still tough to pick against the team that's made the last 3 NBA Finals.

Forrest WalkerThis is, most likely, the correct pick. The Dubs are probably the greatest team of all time, and the Rockets are like the 7th best, TOPS. Teams don’t win game 7’s on the road, so: Warriors in 6. And as a totally unrelated aside, even if I thought the Rockets would win, this is still what I would pick.

Paul Michie-Derrick: The Rockets are a great team but the Warriors will ultimately have too much firepower.

Kyle Chilek: The Rockets are such a great team. It may not matter though because they're up against arguably the best team ever. The warriors just have an insane amount of talent all over the floor. 

Matthew Cardenas: I am legit torn on who comes out on top. These teams were on a collision course all season and their postseason numbers have been nearly identical.

Jorge Flores: It hurts to say, but the Warriors are still a superior team and it's hard to deny the talent Golden State has. I don't expect the Rockets to lose this series out of any sort of collapse from Mike D'Antoni, James Harden, or Chris Paul. I just think the Warriors are still better than a first-year iteration of this Rockets team.

That said, the Rockets winning this series would not shock me at all.

Taylor Pate: This is a complete "shoot your shot" gif, but I'll say this; the Rockets built their team to contend with the Warriors. The Rockets have the length on perimeter needed to defend Kevin Durant that the Pelicans just could not produce. The Rockets, despite having what seemed like offensive woes, are first in offensive rating and net rating in the playoffs. There's a chance.

Who or what is the biggest 'X-Factor' in this series?
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Salman Ali: Whatever counter the Rockets throw out as a counter to the Warriors 'Hamptons Five' death lineup will be the what makes or breaks this series. The Rockets could stick to what they've been doing all postseason and play Clint Capela or do what they did in the regular season to counter small ball units and play P.J. Tucker at center. To me, it's the most fascinating part of this whole series.

Forrest WalkerThis series is going to hinge on how good Clint Capela is at staying on the court. The Warriors are going to run out their privileged kids lineup to go small and try to beat Capela on switches. If Clint can play good enough perimeter defense, his ability to rebound and push around that small lineup will be a difference maker. If not, Houston is playing an inferior version with their own “Tuckwagon” crew.

Paul Michie-Derrick: Steph Curry will make or break the series. If Steph is healthy and playing well, the Rockets have no shot.

Kyle Chilek: How close Steph is to 100%. If he's all the way back, Capela will get roasted on switches, but if he isn't, the warriors will have no way to play Capela off the floor, which is huge for the Rockets given how well he's played this post season. If he's not all the way back the Rockets will have an easier time switching and forcing the warriors to play one on one. 

Matthew Cardenas:  Eric Gordon’s play needs to be on par or better than Klay Thompson’s. Both are big x factors in this series and can honestly win a game for their respective team. We know Thompson’s the better defender, but Gordon will need to be producing on the offensive end in order to have the offense at an even higher level. 

Jorge Flores: The third quarter each game is going to make or break this series. Over the last few years Golden State has dominated the third quarter, creating seemingly insurmountable separation. The Rockets need to keep this game close throughout and stymie any big run the Warriors might be poised to make.

Taylor Pate: The Rockets' defense will likely determine whether or not the series will go a long way. Limiting the huge runs that Golden State is capable of going on will be key. Long defenders like Luc Mbah a Moute and Trevor Ariza getting their hands in the passing lanes could make for some extra possessions for the Rockets and those are the types of easy points you need to beat a team like the Warriors.

What would you consider the most important statistic in this series and why?
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Salman Ali: Turnovers. The Warriors are the best transition team in the league. The Rockets have to continue to take over the ball as they have all postseason to limit these fast break opportunities for Golden State.

Forrest WalkerIt’s three point percentage. I’ve been banging this drum forever, and I’m going to keep on banging it. They have to hit at very least 33% of their threes, probably closer to 35% to have a crack at this series. They’ve been back and forth all playoffs, and now they need to get consistent.

Paul Michie-Derrick: The most important stat is OREB%. The Rockets absolutely need to kill the Warriors on the glass if they want any chance of winning.

Kyle Chilek: Transition points added. The Warriors are one of the best transition offenses in the league, while the Rockets are one of the worst transition defenses. If the Rockets are able to slow the warriors transition game, they will have a much easier time defending them. 

Matthew Cardenas: PJ Tucker and Luc Mbah a Moute both scored in double figures in two of the three regular season matchups against the Warriors. Their value on the defensive end in this series goes without question. Houston is best equipped to defend the Warriors because of the Tucker and Mbah a Moute’s signings. Their ability to switch and constantly have either on Kevin Durant will be important. Those two adding a scoring punch makes makes the Rockets that much harder to beat. Tucker has shot the three ball extremely well these playoffs. 

Jorge Flores: The most important statistic in this series to me is turnovers. Neither Houston nor Golden State can afford to pile up turnovers and let the other team score in bunches.

Taylor Pate: Three point shooting, three point shooting, three point shooting. The Rockets have got to hit their damn shots and I cannot stress that enough. You can't go cold against the Warriors because you aren't going to limit their offense enough to make up for it.

Most important player in this series?

Salman Ali: James Harden is the most important player in this series. For the Rockets to have a legitimate chance, Harden has the be the sharpest he's ever been. On defense, he has to be aware of the amount of cutting, screening, and movement the Warriors do. On offense, he can't turn the ball over and make silly execution mistakes that a team like the Warriors is sure to take advantage of.

Forrest WalkerThe most important player, finally, isn’t James Harden. This time it’s Steph Curry, the engine that makes Golden State go. Without him they’re a wholly different team, and with him at less than 100%, they just might be mortal. How well Curry has recovered from his MCL sprain is going to be crucial to this series.

Paul Michie-Derrick: Clint Capela is the most important Rocket. The Rockets will need his rim protection and offensive rebounding.

Kyle Chilek: James Harden. He has to be the best player in the series. If he isn't, the Rockets just don't have the other pieces to compete, even with Chris Paul. 

Matthew Cardenas: Just like last series, I’ll say Chris Paul is the most important player. I think the Warriors will be more focused on guarding Harden, leaving a little room for Paul to take advantage of that. I’m not saying he needs to have 40 points and 10 assists every night, but he really needs to take advantage of the start of the 2nd and 4th quarters when playing with the 2nd unit. 

Jorge Flores: James Harden is the most important player in this series. Everyone else is going to have to be playing their best basketball, but Harden is the engine that makes this team go. 

They’ll live and die by Harden, which is fine by me.

Taylor Pate: Steph. He makes the Warriors offense go from incredible to godly. The Rockets will likely play Chris Paul on him, but when Paul comes out, you'll likely see a heavy dose of Mbah a Moute and Ariza on Steph. It won't stop him, but throwing so many different looks could slow him down.

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