Will the Rockets and Warriors Meet in the Western Conference Finals?
The first round of the playoffs did not present much pushback for the undermanned Golden State Warriors and the first-seeded Houston Rockets.
Now, they are set to face worthy contenders. The New Orleans Pelicans dismantled the Portland Trailblazers in four games, while the Utah Jazz’s stifling defence shut down the Oklahoma City Thunder, while rookie sensation Donovan Mitchell led the the Jazz to a Game 6 series victory. Meanwhile, it only took five games for the Warriors and Rockets to take care of business in the first round.
As the competition is sure to mount in round two, each series will provide both championship-aspiring teams a strong test. If the Warriors-Rockets fantasy match is to become a reality, both teams will need to find ways to move past their strong round two opponents.
(1) Houston Rockets vs. (5) Utah Jazz
For an offensive juggernaut of the calibre of the Houston Rockets, the defensively-inept Minnesota Timberwolves offered very little resistance.
The Utah Jazz are a completely different animal.
One of the best defensive units in the entire league, the Jazz will force the Rockets to work all series long, and while Houston does have more depth and definitely more talent, Utah will make life extremely difficult. During the regular season, the young yet incredibly well-coached Jazz ranked second in the entire Association in defensive efficiency at 101.6-points per 100-possessions. Yet, the Rockets still sweeped the season series, winning each game by an average of 17.5-points.
While the Jazz can compete against the Rockets defensively, they will struggle to keep up with the shooting depth that the Rockets will throw at them. Despite facing three superstars in their series against the Thunder, Mike D’Antoni offers a more elaborate style of offence – one that will not be as easy to defend for the Jazz.
The Jazz are playing with house money and getting to this point on the shoulders of an unproven rookie is already remarkable, but the Rockets are far and above the better team and are on a completely different level.
Prediction: Houston Wins 4-1
(2) Golden State Warriors vs. (6) New Orleans Pelicans
Only a couple of years ago, the Golden State Warriors completely obliterated the New Orleans Pelicans in their first round matchup.
This time around, the Warriors will be facing a completely different Pelicans squad. While Stephen Curry’s return is imminent and the Pelicans will be without the services of superstar big man DeMarcus Cousins, Anthony Davis is playing at an incredibly high level and finally has the pieces around him that he needs to succeed. Playoff Rajon Rondo is for real and has fit in perfectly in the backcourt with Jrue Holiday, who had a series for the ages against the Blazers, locking down Damian Lillard while averaging 27.8-points on 56.8% shooting and 6.5-assists through four games.
But the Warriors are no Blazers.
Klay Thompson will now be in charge of containing Holiday. Draymond Green will try to make life difficult for Anthony Davis, while the Pelicans will have to find an answer not only for Kevin Durant, but for the returning Curry. The Warriors have the pieces to sweep the Pelicans, but with the high level of play seen from the Pelicans against Portland and the uncertainty of Curry’s exact return date and potential rust that may follow, the New Orleans can make this a series. Ultimately, it will be all for naught, and the Warriors will return to the Western Conference Finals.
Predictions: Golden State Wins 4-2