This Tuesday, the NBA’s Western Conference Finals will kick off California with the conference’s top two seeds facing off against each other, though most did not predict this would happen a week ago. Unbelievably, the Houston Rockets came back from a 3-1 series deficit in the second round against the Los Angeles Clippers to advance to the conference finals in an exciting Game 7. Now they will go into the top-seeded Golden State Warriors’ house as an 10-point road underdog, as they lost all four regular-season meetings with them. But as many analysts have learned the hard way, the regular season almost always has nothing to do with what can happen in the post season.
Golden State is still the betting favorite, with the odds to win the NBA championship in their favour at 4-7. Houston carries the lowest odds of the four remaining teams with betting lines offered at 10-1. The experts agree: “After rallying past the Clippers, Houston enters the Western Conference finals at a huge disadvantage, having to turn around and travel to Oakland to face the rested Warriors in front of one of the NBA’s most vociferous crowds,” wrote VegasInsider.com NBA expert, Tony Mejia. “Both teams in this series will live and die by the 3, so between fresher legs and the home-court edge, you have to love Golden State’s chances of reaching the NBA Finals.”
There is a reason for that favoritism: the Rockets lost the last five meetings with the Warriors going back to the 2013-14 regular season. Time and again Houston failed to cover the spread in all five matchups. The latest two games they played were days apart in January and both ended in massive blowouts, with Golden State winning by an average margin of 19 points. That’s a lot to overcome, maybe more power than they have left in their rockets.
But what both teams have done similarly is won their last three games of the playoffs. Both also did it by double digits. Going into Game 1 of the last round, they each trailed in their respective series. Everyone saw how much Houston was the underdog against LA, especially in Games 5, 6 and 7, yet they came out victorious in each of these elimination games after losing three of the first four games. That shows a lot of character. Houston clawed its way back led by a gritty group centered around leading scorer Harden, center Dwight Howard and forwards Josh Smith and Trevor Ariza. Their Sunday’s big win, 113-100, over Los Angeles was well played and controlled by the Rockets. They will bring that momemtum into the series with LA.
On the other hand, the Warriors knocked out the Memphis Grizzlies 108-95 last Friday as five-point road favorites in Game 6. Golden State put up its highest point total of the series after scoring 101 or less in the previous five games. It was an explosive game that GSW was waiting to break out into. “Our team is all about rhythm and flow, and fouling stops the game. We want the game to go,” said Coach Steve Kerr, “We like our pace…We trust our defense. We think we can get stops. We want to get out and run and let the game flow, but it’s always there. You know, everything is different in the playoffs. You have to have every option at your disposal.”
During the NBA regular season the Warriors were the highest-scoring team with 110 points per game. Yet they have reached that number only once in the playoffs, requiring overtime for a 123-119 victory against the New Orleans Pelicans in Game 3 of the first round. That could bode well for the Rockets, who if they can leep the offence scoring low, may be able to pull off an upset here, if not the series then at least steal some important games. Harden and the Rockets will be in the familiar position of overlooked underdogs, a place in which they have managed to thrive.