GOLDEN STATE WARRIORS (66-26) at HOUSTON ROCKETS (73-19)
Tip-off: Monday, 9:00 p.m. ET
Line: Houston -2.5, Total: 225
A Game 1 win would prove that Houston is for real.We've waited all season for this series, and it's finally here: Rockets-Warriors, with a trip to the NBA Finals on the line. For the last few seasons, the league at large has assumed Golden State has entered the year with a pre-punched ticket to the Finals, and the results have proved them right. But this is the first time the Warriors did not earn the No. 1 seed in the West since the 2013-14 season, and a Houston team that went 65-17 in the regular season looks like the best-suited conference opponent to give the Dubs a run since Kevin Durant's days in Oklahoma City. Both teams will enter this series coming off nearly a full week of rest, with each having completed a five-game series victory this past Tuesday—Houston over Utah and Houston State over New Orleans. Over the last five seasons, teams with winning percentages between .600 and .750 that have gone under the total by at least six points in three consecutive games (GSW) are 41-78 ATS. But in the same timeframe, road underdogs that have failed to cover in five or six of their last seven games (GSW) are 181-117 ATS against opponents that have covered in two of their last three games (HOU). The Warriors are without reserve G Patrick McCaw indefinitely, most likely for the remainder of the playoffs.
While the Warriors may have looked unusually vulnerable throughout the regular season, that has certainly not been the case in these playoffs. That's especially true now that PG Steph Curry, who missed the last month of the regular season and the first six games of the playoffs, is back operating their machine of an offense. His gift for making the incredible look easy was in full display in the clinching Game 5 against New Orleans, when he shot 10-of-16 from the floor (3-6 3PT) en route to 28 points, seven rebounds and eight assists. Co-superstar SF Kevin Durant was equally as efficient, shooting 10-of-18 for 24 points, also adding six rebounds and seven assists. It would seem to be impossible to beat Golden State when they're firing on all cylinders like that, although the same could be said of Houston's three-point assault. SG Klay Thompson was only 2-of-8 from deep but was 8-of-14 from two-point land, finishing with 23 points and six rebounds. PF Draymond Green nearly notched a triple-double with 19 points, 14 rebounds and nine assists, not to mention three steals and two blocks. After shooting a worrisome .357 from the floor in the first round against San Antonio, he started hitting against the Pelicans and was .491 for the series. SF Andre Iguodala joined those four to form the "Hamptons Five" starting lineup, and was a game-best plus-25 in 25 minutes despite scoring only two points. SF Kevon Looney had eight rebounds in a bench-high 23 minutes.
The basketball world is rightly congratulating Houston PG Chris Paul this week, as the future Hall-of-Famer is preparing to play in the Western Conference Finals for the first time in his 12-year professional career. He clinched the advancement with a bang, exploding for 41 points (13-22 FG; 8-10 3PT), seven rebounds and 10 assists in Game 5 against the Jazz. It was his best game of what has been an excellent season, and it came on the heels of 27 points and 12 rebounds in Game 4. And while Paul heating up is getting Houston hyped up, it comes at the same time as a couple of startlingly poor performances from likely MVP PG James Harden. Harden scored a total of 42 points between Games 4 and 5 after averaging 30.4 PPG in the regular season, and shot only 15-of-44 from the floor in those games. Plus, he committed 11 turnovers to seven assists. He looked slow in both games, but word came out after Game 5 that he was playing under the weather. It is, one hopes, nothing that a week off won't fix, because the Rockets obviously need him at full strength against the Warriors. C Clint Capela was quiet overall in Game 5 to wrap up what was a dominant series for him, but he did have five blocks after blocking a career-high six shots in Game 4. He'll have room to do plenty of damage against the Hamptons Five. SF PJ Tucker was lights-out, dropping 19 points on 7-of-9 shooting (5-7 3PT), and adding six rebounds and three blocks. SG Eric Gordon had a perplexingly quiet series, averaging only 12.2 PPG despite dropping 25 in Game 3. He had a playoff-low five points in Game 5, and his playoff shooting splits (.342 FG; .314 3PT) are down significantly from the regular season (.428; .359). But 10 games is a small sample size, and he may be able to get into a better rhythm after having a week off. Fs Luc Mbah a Moute and Trevor Ariza join Tucker in a trio of strong perimeter defenders that will look to make life difficult for the usually unencumbered Warriors offense.