The team that seems to be most favored to defeat the Golden State Warriors in the playoffs is the Houston Rockets. They almost did it last year and have played well against the Warriors this year in the regular season. Can they do it in the 2019 NBA Playoffs?
The rivalry came to an all time high last year in the Western Conference Finals. Houston took a 3-2 lead and had the series in the bag. However, they couldn’t close it and ended up losing in seven games to the Warriors. The loss was a disaster and may even have carried into the next season. So what went wrong?
Something that many people tend to ignore is how important Andre Igoudala is to the Warriors. He may not score a lot but his defense is key for the Warriors in the playoffs. He was injured in the Western Conference Finals and that gave the Rockets a chance to beat the Warriors. If Iggy is healthy throughout the whole series, the Rockets would not have pushed the Warriors to seven games.
There are three things in life that are guaranteed; taxes, death and Chris Paul getting injured in the playoffs. It has been the norm to see Paul get injured and his team lose because he wasn’t there. After Paul was injured, the Warriors focused on Harden and ended up winning as a result. The reason the Rockets got Paul was to take the pressure off Harden.
Lastly, the Rockets lost because they missed 27 straight threes in Game 7. That is ridiculous but it is something coaches in the NBA know can happen. A team that lives by the three dies by the three. A three-pointer may be worth more points that a regular field goal but it is a difficult shot. That is why teams don’t like to build around it. Now it has become the norm to shoot a lot of threes but making easy two-pointers instead of hard three-pointers can determine the outcome of the game.
Now, what do the 2018-2019 Rockets have that the Rockets didn’t have last year? The answer isn’t going to like the Rockets’ odds by much. A new and improved Harden for one thing. He is averaging over 36 points a game this season and looks unstoppable. That may not work because one person cannot beat the Warriors. And the Milwaukee Bucks showed everyone how to slow Harden down; take away his step back three-pointer.
Besides a better Harden, the Rockets got a much deeper bench. They added Austin Rivers and Kenneth Faried who was having his way with the Warriors earlier this year. Yes, the Rockets have a better bench but the game plan will still be James Harden isolation plays. That negates a lot of the positives the team has done.
Can the Rockets beat the Warriors this year? The answer is not as clear as I would like it to be. We haven’t see the Warriors in the playoffs and without that, we can’t say how good they actually are. Steve Kerr is saving his best tricks for the playoffs and the Warriors play better defense in the playoffs. Also, the Rockets haven’t changed how they play from last year.
We are going to see the Rockets try the same formula as last year but it makes sense. The Warriors couldn’t stop Harden for the most part. We are going to see Harden being guarded by Stephen Curry a lot and Harden does well with that match-up. As much as I hate to say it, we are going to get the same series as last time. This is where the Rockets will prove once and for all if their style of play can dethrone the Warriors.