How Warriors can beat Rockets in six games or less
5 keys to victory
OAKLAND -- It is no less than the most anticipated Western Conference Finals since 2002, when the Kings, after earning the No. 1 overall seed for the only time in Sacramento history, faced the defending champion Lakers for the third consecutive postseason.
The Warriors are defending champs seeking to maintain NBA order, the Rockets the No. 1 overall seed are out to rearrange it. And like that series 16 years ago, Warriors-Rockets is expected to have high emotions and no shortage of drama.
Though several factors will dictate the closeness of the games and length of this series, here are five keys, in no particular order, to the Warriors winning in six (or fewer) games, with assessments to follow each game:
ICE THE ARC
Rockets coach Mike D’Antoni, trusting the math, wants his team to shoot 50 3-pointers per game. The Rockets in the regular season averaged 42.3 triples per game, almost seven more than the No. 2 team. They shot only 36.2 percent, tying New Orleans for 13th place. The postseason numbers are 39.9 (No. 1) and 35.3 (No. 11). After finishing 10th in 3-point defense in the regular season, the Warriors are using their playoff arms to hold teams to an NBA-best 32.0 percent so far in the playoffs. If they maintain that, they’re in good shape. If they drop it to 30 or lower, it would block Houston’s preferred path to victory.
THE CHARITY STRIPE
Houston averaged 25.1 free throws per game (third in the league) in the regular season, thanks largely to James Harden’s league-high 10.1 per game. The whistles are not coming as often in the postseason; he’s averaging 8.1 per game and the team has dropped to 21.9. The Warriors have preached about limiting Harden’s free throws because they mean foul trouble for them, easy points for him and disrupted rhythm for the game. He averaged one free throw for every 12 minutes against the Warriors this season. That’s tremendous. If that continues, it’s a win. The Warriors would be delighted to keep him under six and the Rockets under 20.
THE CHARITY COUNT
That the Warriors are averaging 13.4 turnovers per game in the playoffs, down from 15.0 in regular season, is indicative of their heightened focus. Moreover, it suggests they won’t be as sloppy against Houston as they were in the regular season, when they averaged 16.3 turnovers per game, giving the Rockets 20.7 points. They’ll need to drop that to 12 or fewer and they’d need to particularly careful with live-ball giveaways that the Rockets can turn into transition 3s. They have the ability to score in bunches, and if the Warriors offer to help it could get ugly.
SC30 VS. CP3
Stephen Curry still is working his way back to full health and peak timing. Having six days between series will help his body but not his timing. Chris Paul is coming off a fabulous series against Utah, averaging 24.6 points, on 48.4-percent shooting, including 44.1 percent from deep, along with 7.0 rebounds and 6.2 assists. Curry posted similar scoring numbers in four games against New Orleans: 24.5 points, 47.8-percent shooting, 44.1 from deep, but his rebounding and assist totals are not at the usual levels. These two are very familiar with each other from the Warriors-Clippers wars, so it’s pretty simple. If one outplays the other, it’s a win for his team.
If there is an X-factor for the Warriors, it’s at center. Draymond Green moved over for the final two games against the Pelicans and can expect to spend some time there. Warriors coach Steve Kerr won’t say who will start. The Warriors realize what they’re facing in Clint Capela, who was fantastic against Utah, averaging 13.0 points (59.2 shooting), 10.2 rebounds and 3.6 blocks. Expect them to rotate Kevon Looney and Green, but be prepared to for reemergence of Jordan Bell. Bell can switch on defense and his athleticism best mirrors that of Capela. The Warriors’ goal is to prevent lobs and easy points for Capela.