Western Conference Finals

2018 NBA Western Conference Finals Roundtable

After what has been a fun NBA Playoffs so far, we’re finally being treated to the Conference Finals matchup we’ve been so eagerly awaiting. The Houston Rockets and Golden State Warriors will duke it out for Western Conference supremacy, and more importantly a trip to the NBA Finals. We’ve gathered several writers for a roundtable discussion on the showdown, including the importance of it to James Harden’s career and biggest difference maker for Golden State. Our participants for this edition are: 

1. We’re finally getting the Conference Finals matchup we’ve been waiting for all year. What do you expect to see from the Warriors and Rockets in this series? 

Losada: Points galore. No matter the defense any of those two teams apply, I’m expecting high scoring from both of them. We know how Golden State can explode at any given moment and score 20 points in two minutes. We have seen Houston put it in from three one time after another without effort. Sorry D, it’s O time.

Kirkland: I am going to be interested in the chess match between Houston defensively against the Warriors’ offense. Clint Capela is an elite defender around the rim so Houston may look to be more aggressive and take their chances running shooters off of the line into Capela. They would be foolish to not give him a shot to be an early irritant against what Golden State likes to do.

Allen: I expect competitive basketball but I expect Golden State to display their superiority. Houston is a solid team but I just believe that the Warriors are a different animal. I think this will be competitive but I expect Golden State to come out on top.

John-Baptiste: The same thing we’ve been seeing all season long, high octane offense. These are the top two teams in the league and I don’t think this head-to-head matchup will disappoint. Chris Paul and Kevin Durant will be the difference makers for each team and we should anticipate seeing stand-out performances from them. The key for this series will be the defense. Which team will be able to get that late stop down the stretch? If the series is close, it could swing the momentum.

Boyer: I expect to see the Warriors assert themselves and flex their championship chiseled muscles in what proves to be an epic Western Conference Finals. Houston is a worthy foe but I still think Golden State will overwhelm. The success of the Warriors seems to provoke the ire of many basketball fans, and I think the last two seasons have been a campaign of conjuring up beliefs on who can take the Dubs down. Last year it was the LeBron James and Kyrie Irving led Cavaliers. This preseason it was Oklahoma City before their first-round flameout. Then we tried to talk ourselves into the Pelicans having a legitimate chance to challenge them in the second round. Maybe this team is just too good, and I think this series against Houston proves it.

2. How will Chris Paul handle the pressures of his first ever Western Conference Finals? 

Losada: Some may think it–being here for the first time–will have an impact on him, but I don’t think it will affect Paul. The man is already 33-years-old, is closing his 13th season, has been named to the All-Star nine times… If at this point we don’t trust Paul not having this affect his mind… I don’t even know.

Kirkland: CP3 is a veteran and a future Hall of Famer. He has been waiting for this his whole career. He knows whats at stake will be ready to go.

Chris Paul

Chris Nicoll-USA TODAY Sports

Allen: A lot of weight will be on the shoulders of Paul. Not only does he hold a huge role on the offensive side of the ball but he also has to chase Curry around on the other end. While I think he’ll produce and have a solid series against Golden State, I don’t think it will be enough to prevail and surpass the Warriors.

John-Baptiste: This won’t be any different than his previous playoff runs. Expect Chris Paul to come out and hoop! All the Conference Finals jokes stem from not getting there, but it’s not like his performance has slacked in the past (maybe except the Clippers collapse to the Rockets). He is ready to make the Finals. He’s ready to go at Curry, who presumably took the mantle from him as the best point guard in the league. And most of all, he is fearless.

Boyer: Chris Paul looks eager to pounce on the best chance he’s ever had in his career to win a championship, and I think he’ll rise to the occasion against Golden State. Paul is averaging 21.8 points, 6.4 assists, 5.4 rebounds and 2.1 steals per game this postseason, and he steered Houston into the winners circle in both Game’s 4 and 5 against the Utah Jazz, while James Harden sat idly in the passenger seat, making a combined 15 field goals in the two contests. If there are missteps in this series by one member of Houston’s dynamic backcourt do, I wouldn’t bet it to be Paul. 

3. Who has to have more of an impact in this series for Golden State if they want to win: Stephen Curry or Kevin Durant?

Losada: I guess it would be logical to say that the Stephen Curry-Klay Thompson backcourt will need to keep up with Harden and Paul on both offense and defense, but Durant is such a unique talent that his impact will be as important as that of the smaller ballers and we will probably see him all-around the court helping on pretty different tasks. Anyway, even if any of those two fail to produce at any point the other will be there still so I’m not worried about it having much of an impact in the outcome of the series.

Kirkland: Kevin Durant simply because he is the best player on the Warriors. Not to take away from Curry at all, but KD is the second best player in the league right now and no one will admit it because they don’t like that he left the Thunder. He has high expectations and wants to be remembered with the greats so he has to show up. Curry will already go down as the greatest shooter to ever live when he retires (also had titles pre-KD so that will carry more legacy weight). Durant has more to gain here.

Allen: I’m going to be that guy who picks none of the above. My impact guy is Klay Thompson. Curry and Durant are going to get theirs but when they seek Thompson and he gets going, their offense is damn near unstoppable. He’s just another dimension that eases the load off the shoulder of the other two guys but also opens up the floor for them as well. Not to add when he’s hot, they play off of it and it adds an extra pep in their step.

Western Conference Finals

(Photo by Noah Graham/NBAE via Getty Images)

John-Baptiste: Unlike my cohort DJ Allen above, I’m actually going to answer the question. Stephen Curry. Durant is the difference maker, but without Curry doing what he normally does, this series absolutely goes the distance and Houston will be the victor. The Warriors motion offense is what it is because of Steph’s shooting ability and threat to score off the dribble. Durant can also shoot the rock, but he’s not Curry. Steph continues to move even without the ball and his defenders head must constantly be on a swivel.

Boye: Stephen Curry. Curry, who returned from an MCL that kept him out 15 games in the second round, performed well for most of the series but still had moments where he looked limited physically. In year’s past, Harden was flanked by the likes of Josh Smith, Jason Terry and Pablo Prigioni as complementary playmakers. Having Paul to defer to not only bodes well for him, but it pressurizes Curry on the defensive end even more, because there’s truly nowhere for him to hide. Houston will make it a point to attack Curry when they’re on offense, and guarding the likes of Harden and Paul out of the pick-and-roll is a grueling task. Curry’s ability to physically answer the call is why I go with him. 

4. True or False: This is the most important series of James Harden’s career thus far. 

Losada: True. Although he made the Finals with the Thunder back in 2012 in a sixth-man role that made him the most valuable player to come off the bench, this year’s clash against Golden State will truly be the ultimate test for Harden. He’s the leader of this franchise now, he carries the bulk of the team even with the likes of Paul and Capela around, and he’ll be asked to perform against a Warriors team that looks unbeatable on paper, setting up the perfect scenario for him to solidify his legacy.

Kirkland: True. He is the guy. He’s a future Hall of Famer playing with another future Hall of Famer (first such luxury for Paul). This is the season he will also finally achieve his well-deserved MVP. What better way to cement that by slaying the unbeatable Warriors and then knock off either a Celtics team that doesn’t seem to care that they shouldn’t be here or to deny LeBron James of what would get my vote for his most impressive championship ever at age 33. The time is now for The Beard.

Allen: False. I don’t think this series necessarily defines his career. He’s going up against a juggernaut and Harden is still fairly young. He will have time to cement himself in years to come during the postseason.

John-Baptiste: True. Only for right now, though. If he wins this series and makes it to The Finals, that will quickly usurp the Western Conference Finals.

Boyer: True. People consider Harden to be a playoff underperformer, and they’ve let his poor shooting percentages so far this postseason (40% FG, 34% 3PT) slide because this is the matchup we’ve all been reserving judgment for. If Harden is pedestrian in this series, it’ll be a sulking, slander-filled summer. It’s time for Harden to authenticate himself as a true all-time great and redeem himself for the last performance he issued against the Warriors in a Western Conference Finals. 

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5. Who wins this series and in how many games? 

Losada: I’m going Warriors in five. You have to respect Houston and at least give them a game; they have been the best team of the regular season after all. But even with that, I can’t see the Rockets beating Golden State. The options available for the Warriors are so many that it seems impossible all of them will fail at the same time. If Durant doesn’t go off the charts, then you have Curry, and if he can’t get going then you have Klay, and if he can’t put it together you still can rely on an impressive Green. Too much to overcome.

Kirkland: Warriors in six because Kevin Durant is unguardable.

Allen: I have Golden State winning in five. Houston has home court but I don’t see that holding much weight in this series. I see Golden State setting the tone in game one and asserting their dominance throughout this series. I just believe their too much for the Rockets and are just too sound on both sides of the ball.

John-Baptiste: Heart says Rockets in seven, head says Warriors in six. Help me.

Boyer: Warriors in five. I don’t want to be disrespectful to Houston, but I just think we’re in the midst of a run by a team that cannot be denied. 

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