Curry & Klay vs Harden & Paul is the juiciest subplot of the Western Conference Finals

Curry & Klay vs Harden & Paul is the juiciest subplot of the Western Conference Finals

HOUSTON -- Stephen Curry and Klay Thompson have spent four years winning debates. One after another, glorified NBA backcourts have tried to present an argument, only to end up whimpering away in defeat.

Damian Lillard and CJ McCollum of the Trail Blazers are two-time postseason victims.

John Wall and Bradley Beal of the Wizards, 1-7 against the Warriors over the past four years. Nope. Not them.

DeMar DeRozan and Kyle Lowry of the Raptors? Not a chance. They’re 0-8 against the Warriors over past four years.

This new argument, though, is the most legitimate yet: Can James Harden and Chris Paul prove themselves superior to Curry and Thompson?

[LISTEN: Warriors Outsiders Podcast: West Finals predictions; 'what the series comes down to']

That subplot is the juiciest of many raging throughout the Western Conference Finals between the Warriors and Rockets, who meet Monday night for Game 1 at Toyota Center.

“They have weapons all over the floor,” Curry said of the Rockets. “But everything runs through James and Chris.”

The Warriors win the series easily if they throttle Harden and Paul. It’s a very tall task.

They’re two dynamic scorers and playmakers that put a lot of pressure on a defense. For 48 minutes, it’s not going to be just one person defending each of those guys. It’s going to be a total team effort.

Harden led the NBA in scoring (30.4 points per game) and is expected to be a landslide winner in the MVP voting. He finished second to Russell Westbrook in the voting last season, and second to Curry in 2015, though Harden that year won in a vote among NBA players.

Thompson and Harden are 10 years removed from being high school competitors in greater Los Angeles.

“He has developed into an MVP-caliber player, myself an All-Star,” Thompson said. “It just shows we put in a lot of work to get here. We were both touted coming out of high school, but it wasn’t like we were perceived to be at this level.

“He is great at all three levels, and he’s an amazing playmaker.”

Harden has not had much luck beating the Warriors, losing in the 2015 conference finals and falling in the first round in 2016. That changed this season, when the Rockets won two of three games. The lone Warriors victory came on Jan. 4 at Houston, with Harden sidelined by leg soreness.

It’s Paul’s arrival in Houston this season that now pushes the argument. The natural point guard is a nine-time All-Star bound for the Hall of Fame, and he made a surprisingly smooth transition in playing alongside another ball-dominant guard.

Curry has spent much of his career stalking the shadow of Paul, and often coming out on top. Both played prep basketball in North Carolina, Paul four years ahead of Curry. They developed a relationship that grew into a rivalry as professionals.

“He was a great mentor when it came to understanding how a guy at his level prepared over the summer for an NBA season, with his discipline and his work ethic,” Curry said, recalling the summer prior to his rookie season. “I got to see that first-hand after Summer League, through the beginning of the season.

“He demonstrated what it takes to be great in this league, and it was a nice little eye-opener that summer, working out with him and competing against him.”

The Warriors, behind Curry and Thompson, grew to dominate the former Clippers backcourt of Paul and JJ Redick. Harden is not exactly Redick.

Harden and Paul combined to average 49.0 points per game, on 45.3-percent shooting from the field, including 37.1 percent from beyond the arc.

Curry and Thompson were not as prolific but were appreciably more efficient, combining for 46.4 points per game, on 49.1-percent shooting overall, 43.2 percent from deep.

Those numbers won’t matter when the teams face off in this series. Until there is an outcome, may the debate rage.

Damian Jones is 'going to learn a lot' against Warriors next opponents

Damian Jones is 'going to learn a lot' against Warriors next opponents

OAKLAND -- The strenuous introduction of Damian Jones to the NBA that began Tuesday continues this weekend, when he makes his second and third career starts against two more top-10 centers.

The 7-foot center goes against Defensive Player of the Year Rudy Gobert on Friday, when the Warriors face the Jazz in Salt Lake City.

And then on Sunday, when the Warriors go to Denver, Jones gets a load of Nuggets big man Nikola Jokic, perhaps the most comprehensively skilled center in the league.

“We’re going to stay with DJ. I don’t know for how long, but we’ll stay with him,” Warriors coach Steve Kerr said. “We have Gobert and Jokic coming up on this road trip. He has the size and the athleticism to deal with them.

“He’s going to learn an awful lot. To come out of the gates and face these centers, he’s seeing the best. It’s great for him. We’ll start him and see what happens.”

It’s not as if Kerr has much choice. Jones towers over the team’s other centers. He’s got three inches on Kevon Looney and almost four on Jordan Bell. Jones is maybe two inches taller than DeMarcus Cousins, who is not close to being cleared to play.

It’s Jones, by default and by logic, even if he is the team’s least experienced big man.

Jones made his first career start on Tuesday against Oklahoma City and entered with a plan. No way he could grapple with Steven Adams, conceivably the NBA’s top wrestler, so Jones used the one element where he had an advantage: Athleticism.

Phase I was successful. Jones and Looney made a positive impact, helping the Warriors beat the Thunder in the season opener.

What looms now is at least as challenging. Both games are on the road. Both are at altitude. And Gobert and Jokic are very different from each other -- and neither is much like Adams, either.

This is where the lessons of the past come in. Jones didn’t play much in his first two seasons, but his ears were filled with advice from veterans Zaza Pachulia and David West. Both are gone, replaced by a new source of wisdom: DeMarcus Cousins.

“I talk to DeMarcus about it. He’s been around, so he knows,” Jones said.

“He’s always taking him aside, giving him pointers, building his confidence up,” Stephen Curry said of Cousins.

“DJ is that one guy in our lineup that doesn’t have the experience so everyone is in his ear telling him this, telling him that, almost over preparing him,” Draymond Green said. “But for him to take in the information he needs to take in and also stay locked in on the task at hand is important.”

At 7-1, Gobert is the tallest center -- with the broadest wingspan (7-9) -- in the league. He’s a lob threat on offense. Defensively, he takes particular pride in protecting the rim, so he rarely strays from the paint. Jones is more agile than Gobert, though, so he’ll have to find a way to use that.

Keep a body on Gobert at one end, put him in the pick and roll on the other.

Jokic, at 7 feet, is all over the place. He’s not the strongest defender. He is, however, the slickest passing big man in the NBA; the Nuggets have sets in which they run their offense through him. Jokic comfortable on the low block, the high post, the top of the key and even launching from deep. He took 280 triples last season and made them at a rate of 39.6 percent.

Though Jones will start, there is no question Kerr will toss a variety of looks at Jokic. Looney could get more minutes. Jordan Bell will also be in the mix.

But the spotlight shines mostly on Jones.

“I’ll learn a lot,” Jones said of Phases II and III of his ongoing test.

Yes, he will. It might help when Jones moves into Phase IV next week. One night after facing Jokic in Denver, the Warriors return to Oakland to play the Phoenix Suns and impressive rookie center Deandre Ayton.

Steve Kerr had a hunch, and the analytics prove he was correct

Steve Kerr had a hunch, and the analytics prove he was correct

The Warriors were far from perfect in their season opener on Tuesday night.

They turned the ball over 20 times, committed 29 fouls (more than any game last season) and shot below 27 percent from deep.

During his postgame press conference, Steve Kerr -- on multiple occasions -- mentioned how the Warriors aren't quite in peak shape yet.

"As I said, I thought most of our guys looked spent out there," Kerr said. "But this is the only way to get over the hump. They've got the foundation of the conditioning; they got to get over the hump with their wind and their legs."

[RELATED: Warriors' talent masked sloppy mistakes in season-opening win over OKC]

"I don't know what the numbers will show, but we dribbled a lot more than we should. I thought we were pounding the ball into the floor. We've got to get the ball moving via the pass again, and then we'll look more like ourselves."

Kerr's hunch was correct.

The Warriors -- who averaged 826 dribbles per game last season -- dribbled the ball 883 times vs the Thunder.

The Warriors -- who averaged just under 323 passes per game last season (4th most in the NBA) -- only registered 271 passes last night.

This will definitely be something to monitor over the next two games...

Drew Shiller is the co-host of Warriors Outsiders. Follow him on Twitter @DrewShiller