The Oncoming Clash of the NBA’s Heavyweights

The Oncoming Clash of the NBA’s Heavyweights

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The Oncoming Clash of the NBA’s Heavyweights

As the 2017-2018 NBA season continued to unfold, it just seems like we were destined to see the Golden State Warriors and Houston Rockets meet up in the Western Conference Finals, in what could be a bona fide heavyweight match. While the winner would seemingly face LeBron James and the Cleveland Cavaliers in the NBA Finals, this could be another year where the conference finals features more intrigue than the Finals itself.

The Houston Rockets finished the season ranked second in the league in points per game (112.4), even though they were only 27th in field-goal attempts. How is that possible? It was because of their 3-point shooting. The Rockets take (42.3) and make (15.3) more 3-point shots than any team in the NBA. Houston reeled off three different winning streaks of double-digit wins, combined with the sixth-best road record (31-10) in NBA history.

Houston head coach Mike D’Antoni’s second season in Houston features one of the oldest rosters in the NBA, but that experience allows this team to orchestrate his motion-based offense with masterful precision.

D’Antoni’s teams of the past were always considered to be dangerous and aggressive teams, but not in the way the Rockets currently play. They have the speed, but they also have a rare physicality to their game. The players play with a combination of ferocity and grace you wouldn’t expect.

Of course, the true driver of this proverbial car has to be none other than guard James Harden, who remains the front-runner for the NBA’s Most Valuable Player (MVP) award this season, after finishing the year averaging 30.4 points and 8.8 assists a game.

Against common opponents in the Western Conference, the Rockets were eight games better than the usually-dominant Warriors, winning their 26 games with a 21-5 record, compared to a 13-12 record in 25 games for Golden State.

But, you have to beat the champion in order to be the champion, and the title still remains in the hands of the Warriors. Even though Golden State still remains the true favorite, in most people’s eyes, to win the title, this team doesn’t seem as invincible as it has in years past. They’ll enter the playoffs without point guard Stephen Curry, who is still one of the top seven players in the NBA. Even when Curry returns, he won’t be nearly the same player as we’re accustomed to seeing; we saw what that can lead to in the 2016 NBA Finals. For those who want more empirical proof: Golden State averages 14.4 fewer points per 100 possessions when Curry isn’t on the court.

Then again, this team still has Kevin Durant, who averaged 26.4 points this season, and maybe the best one-on-one defensive player in the NBA in Draymond Green. Let’s also not forget sharp-shooting guard Klay Thompson, though he hasn’t quite been the same player we’re accustomed to seeing. But when a team features four of the top 25 players in the NBA, it’s a juggernaut that appears unbeatable until they’re actually beaten. And that task falls on the shoulders of the Rockets.

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