The Western Conference Finals match up we have been waiting for all season is finally here. The Houston Rockets and Golden State Warriors have been building towards this moment since Chris Paul joined the Rockets in the off-season. Game 1 will officially tip off on Monday, but before then, get to know the key players to watch in this series:
With apologies to Klay Thompson, the versatility and leadership that Draymond brings to the Warriors will be extremely crucial in this match up with the Rockets. Draymond is a top defender in the NBA and can defend across multiple positions. While Draymond plays the least “sexy” brand of basketball among his teammates. He provides a near triple-double every game and boasts averages of 13.1 points, 9 assists, and 11.5 rebounds per game. If Draymond can keep his emotions in check and avoid getting on the ref’s bad side, his play will go along way in getting the Warriors back to the finals to defend their crown.
4) Chris Paul
Finally! At long last Chris Paul will have a chance to experience a conference finals series. For one of the most accomplished point guards of the last decade plus, playoff success has been the one NBA joy eluding his grasp. Joining forces with James Harden, CP3 has helped turn the Rockets into the biggest threat to the Warriors reign other than some guy named LeBron James. A master of tempo and game control, CP3 has been a major catalyst for a revised and improved Rockets defense which has been the glaring weakness over the past few seasons. He is averaging over 2 steals per game this postseason and will surely be tasked with trying to help “contain” the #3 player on this list. If he’s successful, CP3 may also get his first taste of the NBA Finals this year as well.
3) Steph Curry
Feels a little strange putting a 2x NBA MVP this low on this list, but that’s how stacked this series is with talent. In truth, if Steph Curry had been back for a longer period following an injury that kept him out all of round 1 and the 1st game of the Pelicans series he might just take the #1 spot. His ability to disrupt a defense and change the scheme of an opposing team with his deadly shooting from deep is unparalleled. In his first game back last series, he came off the bench and casually dropped in 28 points in only 27 minutes. Once Steph is back up and running and his playing time starts to creep back to the mid to high 30’s per game, there might be no stopping him.
2) James Harden
From a 2x NBA MVP to the presumptive favorite to take home the award for 2018, this series may be historic for hardware that has been distributed among the players of these teams. The Beard has taken his game a new level this season and has been attacking defenses with expert precision. In the playoffs he’s averaging nearly 30 points per game and has made it all look relatively easy. Harden has a knack for getting to the free throw line and averages almost 9 shots per game. He is one of the craftiest players in the game, can get into the lane and cause havoc at any time and has a jump shot to back it up just in case a defender gets crazy and tries to sag off him. Harden had a disastrous end to his playoff run last year vs. the Spurs but if he can continue to shake those demons as he has all season, he could be looking at a return to the NBA Finals for the 1st time since 2012 when he was with the Thunder.
1) Kevin Durant
Speaking of that 2012 Oklahoma City Thunder team, it’s a bit of a reunion for the top 2 players on this list. Kevin Durant is widely considered the 2nd best player in the NBA and with the top player over in the Eastern Conference, the top spot on this list must belong to the Slim Reaper himself. Durant is freakish in his ability to handle the ball and score the ball like a guard while possessing the same tool set of some of the NBA’s best big men. Also, just in case one might think his slight frame and defense might be his downfall, he recently improved his rim protecting abilities by finishing in the top 5 in blocks per game this past season. Durant can do it all on the basketball court and his size makes him a mismatch for anyone who dares to try and stop him. Expect a big series from Durant if the Warriors are to repeat as champions.