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The Western Conference has been known as the Golden State Warriors conference for the last four years. Advancing to the Finals all four of those years (winning three championships), the target on their backs seem bigger than ever.
It’s bigger because of the loss of DeMarcus “Boogie” Cousins after tearing his quad in the first round. The Houston Rockets, Denver Nuggets and the Portland Trailblazers are more confident than ever that they can knock out the bully of the west.
Here’s a breakdown of the Western Conference Semifinals.
4) Houston Rockets
1) Golden State Warriors
Keys for the Rockets
The pick-and-roll will be essential for Houston when Kevon Looney is in the game. James Harden must get the “others” involved early to boost their confidence. When Harden goes to the bench, Chris Paul has to be aggressive scoring which will create easy shots for reserves like Gerald Green, Danuel House and Kenneth Faried.
Defensively, center Clint Capela has to stay out of foul trouble to be able to protect the paint. Iman Shumpert has to be ready when called on to at least slow down Kevin Durant and face-guard him to prevent him from getting the ball or at least at the spot where Durant wants to get. It is imperative that they communicate while switching defensively off hard picks in the half-court setting.
The X-Factors will be Faried and Austin Rivers. Faried’s energy on both side of the court can be disruptive to the Warriors defensively and offensively. His rotation on defense and ability to get the 50-50 balls with offensive rebounds is key. Rivers flat out, just needs to score and put pressure on Golden State’s defense.
Keys for the Warriors
The offensive end is usually not a problem for the Warriors but playing the Rockets may force a little pressure on them to score. With that being said, Looney and Andrew Bogut must be aggressive offensively to force Capela out of the paint and put him in foul trouble. Draymond Green usually is not needed for scoring but if he can make three-pointers consistently, it will force the Rockets to play him honest which means they can’t double off him.
Defensively, if Looney is being abused, they have to make the quick adjustment by subbing him out. Because of Harden’s ability to go left or right, doubling him to force the ball out his hand and make the other players take uncomfortable shots can work in their favor.
The X-Factor is Andre Iguodala. “Iggy” missed the playoff matchup last year. He can be the cure for the “Looney” pick-and-roll and can play the power forward position if they decide to go small. His ability to shoot the three-pointer and be able to put the ball on the floor forces a mismatch for the Rockets.
Prediction- Rockets win in six games.
3) Portland Trailblazers
2) Denver Nuggets
Keys for the Trailblazers
Portland’s confidence has been riding high and to keep that up, efficient shots throughout the game is important. Usually teams want the role players to get going but in this series, Damian Lillard and C.J. McCollum needs to carry the load. if this happens, then the open shots for Seth Curry, Enes Kanter, Al-Farouq Aminu and others will follow.
On the defensive side, they won’t have the luxury of the opposite team shooting a bad percentage from the field like the Oklahoma City Thunder. They have to shoot the passing lanes due to the fact that Denver likes to move the ball around on offense.
The X-Factor is going to be Evan Turner. The multi-facet guard is there to lead the second team when it comes to pace but he needs to be more involved using his ability to post and drive to the rim. This can provide the proper rest for Lillard and the McCollum.
Keys for the Nuggets
Plain and simple, the Nuggets need to keep doing what they’ve been doing. Space the floor, use ball movement and trust each other. Nikola Jokic should have a field day with Kanter guarding him and not being 100%. The only concern might be the bench keeping the pedal down and if they play well, then they should have no worries.
Defensively, make sure to force Lillard to take the long three-pointers. Although he can make them, Russell Westbrook is not there to make him mad and if he gets cold, this can work in their favor. This might be so cliche but the Denver’s offense can be their best defense. Scoring will put pressure for Portland to shoot three-pointers which can turn into bad shots.
The X-Factor is Mason Plumlee. Offensive rebounding will be key to limiting the Trailblazers’ possessions for Plumlee. On defense, he’s active in rotating and blocking shots and if this happens, then this will either help maintain leads or start fast breaks for them to comeback.
Prediction- Denver wins in six games.