The Golden State Warriors have waited for a worthy opponent. San Antonio was a shell of a team without Kawhi Leonard and fell quickly to the reigning champs. New Orleans was no different, falling 4-1 in the Western Conference Semifinals.
Houston is a different beast. The Rockets aren't just the No. 1 overall seed in the 2017-18 playoff picture, they are a star-ladened group that can score with anyone. But do they have the all-around game to unseat the Warriors?
PG: Chris Paul
SG: James Harden
SF: Trevor Ariza
PF: P.J. Tucker
C: Clint Capela
Mike D'Antoni has found the perfect group to run his uptempo, 3-point shooting offensive scheme. His starting backcourt has 15 combined All-Star appearances and Harden is the likely league MVP this season. The starting five is a perfect combination of playmakers, scorers and defenders, specifically arranged to compete with the Warriors.
GG: Eric Gordon
SG: Gerald Green
SF: Luc Mbah a Moute
PF: Ryan Anderson
C: Nene Hilario
Good enough to start on most teams, D'Antoni's second unit is filled with quality NBA players. Gordon is the scorer, but each member of the Rockets reserves has a special talent that make them unique. Green is a super athlete that can heat up and take over a game. Mbah a Moute was signed to slow the likes of Kevin Durant. Anderson is an accomplished shooter and Nene can still put up numbers in the post.
D'Antoni has long been known as an offensive genius. With a pair of star guards at his disposal, the 67-year-old coach produced the second highest scoring team in the NBA at 112.4 points per game and the league's highest offensive rating at 114.7.
Harden is the catalyst for everything on the offensive end. The ball-dominant shooting guard led the league in scoring at 30.4 points per game and finished third in assists at 8.8 dimes per game. Harden loves to have the ball in his hands and excels in the pick-and-roll with big man Clint Capela.
Despite having two top tier passers in the backcourt, the Rockets ranked just 26th in the league in assists at 21.5 per game. On the plus side, Houston averages just 13.8 turnovers a night, which was good enough for 12th place this season.
Where Houston really hurts teams is from long range and at the free throw stripe. The Rockets shot an incredible 3470 3-point attempts this season, averaging 42.2 shots per game from behind the arc. They knocked down 36.2 percent from long range, which ranked 13th in the league, but the volume of triples they shoot is staggering.
When they aren't hoisting from deep, they draw fouls. Houston ranked third in the league in free throw attempts at 25.1 per game, including 10.1 attempts per game from Harden.
On the defensive end, the Rockets have improved greatly. During their playoff run, Capela has turned up the intensity in the middle, averaging 2.8 blocks per game. He's surrounded by quality wing defenders, including Tucker, Mbah a Moute and Green.
During the regular season, Houston ranked sixth in both points allowed (103.9) and defensive rating (106.1), showing they are more than just an offensive juggernaut.
They also ranked 5th in the league in steals, 15th in blocked shots and forced their opponents into 14.6 turnovers per game. The Rockets are a solid defensive rebounding team, finishing the season at 10th overall.
This is the matchup that seemed inevitable from the opening tip of the regular season. Houston made a point to take home the top seed in the Western Conference and secure home court advantage. They also hold a 2-1 advantage in the season series after knocking off the Warriors in late January.
Houston built their team to compete with Golden State. They have the firepower to match the Warriors on the perimeter and they've brought in as many able bodied defenders as possible to slow Kevin Durant.
The Rockets' overreliance on the 3-ball might be their undoing in the series, but if they come out hot, this series could be an epic battle. The Warriors have the experience, but the Rockets appear ready for the challenge.