Well, it's playoff time, and while many are torn whether or not that's actually a good thing considering the matchup and the hellacious season we just endured, I for one, am excited.
The Rockets have absolutely nothing to lose in this series, and that could potentially make them dangerous, or at the very least, capable of making this a much more exciting matchup than most would anticipate. There are literally no expectations of Houston, with many predictions calling for a Golden State sweep. And that's what could really make things fun.
The Rockets have been playing well of late, and James Harden in currently in the midst of his best stretch of ball of the entire season. Sure, we know all about the Dubs and their 73 wins and Stephen Curry and all the fun he has, and all the threes he hits, and Draymond Green's yelling, and blah, blah, Warriors best ever, blah, blah.
But if there was ever a point in the season where Houston's looked like they are actually peaking, this is it. And that's got to count for something.
Let's take a look at the three matchups to watch:
Steph Curry vs. Patrick Beverley at point guard
The advantage here is obvious. It's the soon-to-be-two-time MVP up against a guy we're not even sure is 100 percent qualified to be starting and playing the 30 minutes a night he's been getting since the new year. That being said, Beverley's another Rocket currently playing his best ball of the year at the right time, averaging 11.5 points, 4.3 rebounds, 6.0 assists and 1.7 steals in the month of April.
He's also been hot all year from deep, hovering at or around 40 percent from three for much the season. But it's not his offense that's going to make any sort of difference here (though that three-ball is certainly a major asset and part of the Rockets' attack plan), it's Beverley's play on the defensive side that has a chance to help out the Rockets in this upcoming Series of Death.
He's not going to shut down Curry, that's obvious. You don't shut down Steph. What he can do, however, is do what Bev does best: Pester. Annoy. Make Curry even a little bit uncomfortable with his energy and his attitude. Play nasty.
There's no doubting that Curry is the oil that greases the Dubs' engine. If Bev can muck that engine up even a little bit, it's possible the whole machine slows down just enough to let The Beard do his thing and take over a game or two. Defending the Warriors' attack starts with finding a way to handle Curry, and that starts with Beverley.
Still, clear advantage for the Warriors at the point guard spot, without question.
Klay Thompson vs. James Harden at shooting guard
Sorry, Zach Lowe. You're usually on point, but you missed on this one. No way Klay belongs on the Third Team All-NBA over Harden. Thompson is having a fine, fine season on a historic Warriors team, make no mistake, but what the Beard has been doing this year is historic in its own right. The All-NBA team is not about team success, it's about individual brilliance, and for that, Harden belongs definitively over Thompson and should actually be on the Second Team next to Chris Paul.
Harden is, as mentioned, currently playing his best stretch of ball of the season (and maybe even the best stretch of ball in the last two seasons), and though Thompson has historically defended The Beard well, I see no reason for a Harden slowdown here. He's been virtually unstoppable for two months straight now whether the Rockets win or lose, and that will likely continue within or without the framework of Houston team success.
It's uncertain how much time these two will even spend guarding each other, with Trevor Ariza (and also Corey Brewer) likely to spend some time shadowing Thompson, while the Rockets will use James Harden on the less dangerous Harrison Barnes. The Dubs will have Andre Iguodala involved in there somewhere as well.
Harden has an advantage over almost anyone in the NBA at shooting guard, however, and The Beard holds all the keys to Houston's offensive success.
Draymond Green vs ??? at power forward
How do the Rockets counter Green? Donatas Motiejunas has been starting at the power forward slot for much of the second half of the season, but it's unlikely he'll be able to keep up with the Warriors' small ball attack for extended periods, so expect the Rockets to counter with some small ball of their own and send out Ariza on Green to match versatility with versatility.
The Rockets also have Josh Smith and Montrezl Harrell (who's likely to be active over Terrence Jones) to match against Green, so Houston does have a plethora of options at their disposal, but how effective they may be is another matter entirely.
The Warriors have a big advantage here, and it's going to be a tough one for the Rockets to overcome.
For the Warriors, the x-factor is Andre Iguodala. He may come off the bench, but he'll be spending his fair share of time guarding Harden. If he can make things tough on The Beard and chip in a little bit of offense as well, those sweep predictors will be spot on. Don't forget he won Finals MVP last year.
If Iggy struggles at all, the Rockets have a shot at making it interesting.
For the Rockets, the x-factor is Dwight Howard. Will Houston get the regular season Howard, who sloshed through one of his worst campaign since his rookie year? Or will the Rockets get Playoff Dwight, who averaged 16.0 points, 14.2 rebounds and 2.3 blocks per game in last season's playoff run?
If it's the former, you can close the book on the Houston year. If it's the latter, neither Andrew Bogut nor Festus Ezeli will be able to handle D-12 inside, and we just may have a series on our hands.
This may not be the popular opinion, but I'm willing to go out on a limb here for the sake of optimism. The Warriors win Games 1 and 2 in double-digit fashion, convincing everyone, including themselves, that a clean sweep is clearly on the horizon.
Golden State loses focus in Game 3, dropping a tight one in Houston. They come out substantially more serious in Game 4, but succumb anyway to an epic Harden performance, and we suddenly have a tied series on our hands, much to the chagrin of Curry lovers worldwide.
The Dubs get it together after that scare, however, pushing the pedal to the metal at a speed the Rockets just can't match and close out Houston by winning the next two games to take the series in six.
Golden State wins, 4-2.