HOUSTON – It’s only the Western Conference finals, but many experts believe the matchup between the Houston Rockets and Golden State Warriors will essentially determine the NBA championship.
Barring injury, the winner of the West will be the favorite against either Boston or Cleveland in the NBA finals. (Boston leads the eastern conference finals, 1-0).
Houston has home-court advantage after finishing with the league’s best regular-season record at 65-17. That was seven games better than Golden State, which dealt with a host of injuries in the second half of the season as the Rockets flew past them in the standings.
Both teams now are at full health and each won their opening two series in five games.
Here are the keys to victory for the Rockets in Game 1.
The Warriors can put on a scoring blitz early in games better than any team in the league, maybe other than the Rockets. Both teams are among the league’s best first-quarter teams. Houston scored 30 or more points in the first quarter three times in their five-game series against Utah – winning all three of those games. The Warriors scored 30 or more points in the first quarter three times in five games against the Pelicans in their semifinal series win. They also won each of those three games.
With the series starting in Houston, the Rockets crowd will be ready to go (hopefully) for the 8 p.m. tip and a fast start by the Rockets should have them going wild for their guys.
Deep shots must drop
The Rockets will shoot their 3-pointers, whether they fall or not. Against the Warriors, it is essential that the Rockets' percentage stay at least where it was during the regular season against Golden State. Houston made 35.9 percent of their 3-pointers in their three games against Golden State in the regular season. Houston really needs Eric Gordon to rise to the occasion. He’s made just 31.4 percent of his 3-pointers in 10 games this postseason. That’s way down from his 35.9 percent in the regular season. What’s worse, though, is Gordon was just 2-for-24 (8.3 percent) on 3-pointers in the three games versus the Warriors this season. However, Gordon was sensational inside the arc against Golden State, shooting 21-30 (70 percent) on 2-point shots in three games.
The Warriors are the champs, they’ve knocked the Rockets out of the playoffs twice in the last three seasons. They play with exceptional confidence. They will get hot. They will go on a scoring binges. Provided the Rockets beat them twice this season and will go on scoring binges of their own and should continue to play with the supreme confidence a team with 65 wins brings to each game. Knowing that, they should not get frustrated by the Warriors. If the Rockets do get frustrated, the game can get out of hand in the blink of an eye.