Harden, Curry, KD and everything that will decide the West

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The Rockets have been preparing for this all season — longer, even — and here is what they face: a Warriors team that is 24-3 in the playoffs since signing Kevin Durant. Houston has to beat them four times in seven games. Golden State with Durant has lost three times in six playoff series. Last season’s Cavaliers might have been one of the greatest single-season teams ever, and certainly were one of the greatest offensive teams ever. They got one game.customized nfl jerseys cheap

But these Rockets were built over the summer, and then tweaked midseason, specifically for this series. They are 50-5 when all three of James Harden, Clint Capela and Chris Paul play. By any measure, they represent the most profound challenge the Warriors have faced in the Durant-Stephen Curry era.

They can match any style: fast, slow, big, small. Hell, they might be able to dictate the style of this series. Some will cast this as a battle for the soul of basketball: isolation showboats and the math geniuses behind them against the protectors of the beautiful game. There is a kernel of truth there. The reality is Golden State has the tools to win both sorts of games. Durant has inoculated them from any stylistic limitations. They have seen every switching scheme in existence, and know how to break them with smart cuts and passes.

Let’s dig into some of the major questions and X-factors:151

? Houston can surround Harden with four good defenders, and Golden State usually offers one safe-ish place to hide him. The matchups will be fun, even if they switch in a blur on every possession.

We don’t even know yet who the Warriors will start: the Death Lineup, with Draymond Green at center, or a more traditional lineup probably featuring Kevon Looney in place of Andre Iguodala. If Golden State starts small, Houston can stash Harden on Iguodala, slot Capela onto Green, Paul onto Curry, Trevor Ariza on Klay Thompson, and the immovable PJ Tucker onto Durant. Against bigger lineups, Houston could match up across positions — with Harden on Thompson (gulp) — or slide Harden onto Green, or even Looney.

I would bet (reluctantly) on the Warriors starting Game 1 with Looney. He defended Anthony Davis well, and it just seems like the Steve Kerr move: start with someone who can body up Capela, and keep one ace in the hole. Golden State is also thin on wings — cheap nfl nike jerseys from china centers compose almost half of the roster for some reason — and starting all the best ones deprives the bench of some pop. Smart staggering can mitigate that, but the Warriors are also concerned about overtaxing Iguodala.

? Whether Golden State’s centers serve any purpose in this series will be one of its pivot points. Only JaVale McGee — and basketball gods help any coach who counts on McGee in this round, against this opponent — can do the Rudy Gobert/Pau Gasol “stand near the rim and raise your arms” thing and bother Harden. None of them can reliably switch onto Paul or Harden. Looney will pull it off one of every three or four times, but he’s walking a tightrope. Kerr might try Jordan Bell at some point for added speed.