Houston Rockets vs. Golden State Warriors: Full Series Preview and Analysis, Part 1


 NBA Playoffs: Houston Rockets vs. Golden State Warriors

Western Conference Finals: Series Preview and Analysis

Record: 56-26, Won Southwest                Record: 67-15,  Won Pacific

Second in West, 3rd in NBA                                First in West/NBA

Following the improbable comeback in Game 6 in Los Angeles the Houston Rockets finished their objective Sunday by winning Game 7 over the Clippers to return to the Western Conference Finals. While James Harden led the decimated squad all season they inexplicably suffered some  regression in their defense when Dwight Howard returned to the court.

By beating the Clippers they not only move on to the West finals, but they’ve forged a chemistry on the court and a belief they can beat anyone. As they prepare for the next step in their journey they once again enter as heavy underdogs.

There is no argument the Golden State Warriors have dominated the Rockets this season notching better offensive stats against them then their gawdy league leading point differential averages against the league.

As we prepare for Game 1 on Tuesday night I’ll break down the series including story lines, season as well as playoff stats for the team and individual players, injuries, player match-ups, keys to winning and make an educated guess on who’ll win the series.

In part one I cover the basic stats, schedule and story lines.

Latest Results:

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Recent Matchups:

Jan 22 HOU 113-126 GS      Jan 18 GS 131-106 HOU      Dec 11 HOU 93-105 GS

Nov 9 GS 98-87 HOU      Oct 20 GS 83-90 HOU

Series Schedule:

Game One:

Tue May 19, 9:00 PM EST – ESPN, C+D

ORACLE Arena – Oakland, CA

Next: What's the Story?

Story Lines:

Reigning MVP and Runner-Up:

On the night of Game 1 of the Clippers – Rockets series you could visibly see James Harden wasn’t himself and it permeated throughout the team.

While some said it was due to the rust they were suffering from 5 days off or the caliber of the talent others speculated Harden was distraught about losing the MVP award, or more specifically how much Stephen Curry had won by.

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Entering this series James Harden will definitely have something to prove, but he’ll need to balance his own personal desires with that of his teams needs. Through the first two rounds of the playoffs Harden’s numbers are better than Curry yet he hasn’t been the dominate game changing force he was during the regular season especially in the Clipper series.

The one thing you can count on is Harden has repeatedly demonstrated the ability to succeed the more he is doubted. The lone time he wasn’t successful was facing Golden State this regular season. Given the loss of the MVP Award he’ll have extra motivation heading into the Western Conference Finals.

Next: Adjustments

May 6, 2015; Houston, TX, USA; Houston Rockets forward Terrence Jones (6) and Los Angeles Clippers forward Blake Griffin (32) battle for a rebound during the second half in game two of the second round of the NBA Playoffs at Toyota Center. The Rockets defeated the Clippers 115-109 to tie the series at 1-1. Mandatory Credit: David J Phillip-Pool Photo via USA TODAY Sports

Adjusting To A New Series Opponent:

While Golden State owned the Rockets in the regular season the playoffs are a different beast altogether. Albeit the Warriors have continued to dominate their opponent dispensing of both their first round opponents with relative ease.  Looking at their first and second round competition the Warriors did benefit from the inexperience of New Orleans and the offensively challenged Grizzlies who were also dealing with key injuries.

For their part the Rockets benefited from a defensively challenged Mavericks squad who also were dealing with key injuries, followed by the Clippers who manhandled them through the first 4 games (despite losing one of those games) and then self destructed in the final 3 games of the series.

Game 5 the Clippers said they simply took the Rockets for granted and then the Game 6 fourth quarter comeback (or Clipper collapse as some say) occurred.

By Game 7 the Clippers predominantly looked to have checked out as Houston took an early lead and never looked back.

Heading into the first game of the series both teams will have to adjust to the different styles of the teams they now face.

This is perhaps an area the Rockets can benefit from as the Clippers will have to quickly adjust to the Rockets pace after spending a series against the Grizzlies 94.33 possessions per 48 minutes they now have to adapt to the Rockets playoff best 104.82.

Granted the Warriors would likely prefer to run so it won’t be a long term issue.

Conversely it could be reasoned the Rockets first two rounds provided better preparation for the Clippers since they faced the top ranked regular season offense (and 5th ranked in Dallas).

In addition whether you choose to look at the Game 6 comeback in L.A. as the Rockets excelling or solely as a Clipper collapse the Rockets gained confidence from that as demonstrated in their most complete effort Sunday. Moreover, now Houston know they can win even without Harden on the court.

Next: Respect the Defense

May 4, 2015; Houston, TX, USA; Houston Rockets forward Trevor Ariza (1) dribbles the ball against the Los Angeles Clippers in game one of the second round of the NBA Playoffs at Toyota Center. Los Angeles Clippers won 117 to 101. Mandatory Credit: Thomas B. Shea-USA TODAY Sports

The Dangerfield Issue:

Perhaps the Rockets should take on comic Rodney Dangerfield’s oft repeated adage “I can’t get no respect” as their team mantra. I’ll admit, I was even guilty of that opinion prior to watching more of them upon joining Space City Scoop. What many don’t know is the Rockets are deceivingly good at disrupting teams via their defense when they are focused. In their first series Houston was the one team pundits cited as likely to be upset and yet they disposed of the Mavericks in 5 games.

In the second round most pundits picked the Clippers to dispense of Houston in 5 games and they looked poised to do exactly that, but once again the Rockets rose up to ruin those predictions.

As they prepare for the Warriors once again they are predicted to fall either in a sweep or 5 games.  I don’t want to supersede my prediction on part 3 on the last slide, but suffice to say these Rockets are facing a squad who is great both offensively and defensively with depth and length.

Can Rockets Find Their Defense:

Perhaps the most surprising fact of the season is the Rockets sat in the top three defensively for the majority of the season but fell substantially down the ladder seemingly with the return of Dwight Howard and Terrence Jones.

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More accurately the loss of Patrick Beverley can’t be overlooked since defending the back court became a real issue with a 37 and 38 year old  manning the point.

Trevor Ariza will no doubt spend ample time guarding Curry and it’s likely Corey Brewer may also spend some time on him.

Looking back at the Game 6 comeback versus L.A. the 5 players who were on the court were : Dwight Howard, Josh Smith, Trevor Ariza, Corey Brewer and Jason Terry. This unit balanced the best defensive and offensive effort in the series and may have to see some additional time on the court versus GSW.

Next: Lessons Learned

Jan 17, 2015; Houston, TX, USA; Houston Rockets guard James Harden (13) drives the ball to the basket during the second quarter as Golden State Warriors guard Klay Thompson (11) defends at Toyota Center. Mandatory Credit: Troy Taormina-USA TODAY Sports

What Rockets Can Learn From Regular Season:

When the Rockets defense excelled in the regular season they implemented a duo strategy of defending the perimeter and clogging the paint leaving the middle of the offensive floor unprotected. Looking at these regular season games versus GSW there are some specific issues which can be isolated as part of the problem in the losses.

  • First the Rockets allowed GSW to shoot over 44% from the field and late in the season over 40% from behind the arc.
  • Second although Howard missed two games, in the two he played he had one productive game but Harden was contained. In the second it was the opposite, so if the Rockets can find a way to get both of them to produce it will provide tangible benefits.
  • Third the large amount of turnovers produced led to copious points and an increase of points off the fast break. For the Rockets to succeed they’ll need to manage the rock.
  • In every game the Rockets suffered a bad quarter which ultimately was the difference in the game.

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Next: Oracle - ROARacle

May 13, 2015; Oakland, CA, USA; General view of Oracle Arena before game five of the second round of the NBA Playoffs between the Golden State Warriors and the Memphis Grizzlies. The Warriors defeated the Grizzlies 98-78. Mandatory Credit: Kyle Terada-USA TODAY Sports

All the Interesting Positional Match-ups:

Sure there is the winner of the MVP  and the runner-up match-up but there are many more positional pairings of interest.

  • Dwight Howard versus Andrew Bogut
  • Josh Smith versus Draymond Green
  • Trevor Ariza defensively versus Curry/Thompson
  • Thompson defensively versus James Harden
  • The others: Brewer, Terry, Smith offensively versus Iguodala, Lee and Livingston
  • The Benches versus each other
  • Barnes and Ariza individual 2-way production

Oh Oracle, ROARacle:

Not to be left unmentioned especially considering how loud Clutch City was in Game 7, Sunday is the best home court in the NBA: Oracle Arena. Unlike some teams fans you can’t take them out of a game, they’ll be loud throughout the game regardless of whether GSW lead or trail.

Not to be out done you can expect Clutch City to be loud and proud, however they’ll only get 3 opportunities at most.

Part 2 Next:

Part 2 will follow shortly with season and playoff statistics for the teams and individuals, and bench stats. Then in the final Part 3 segment we’ll provide a more detailed break-down of key match-ups, the keys to winning and the prediction.

Next: Full Series Preview and Analysis Part 2

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