NBA Playoffs: Spurs vs Rockets Preview
The San Antonio Spurs will face off against the Houston Rockets in the Western Conference semi-finals in a battle for Texas. If you told me we would get a James Harden vs. Kawhi Leonard matchup in the second round, I’d gladly accept it. Two of the top five MVP candidates will go head to head, in what should be a great and entertaining series.
If the regular season is any indication, then this series will be extremely close and go down to the wire. All four of their regular season games were decided by a combined 12 points with no team winning by more than six points. The playoffs are different animal, but we should have a great series nonetheless.
Kawhi Leonard vs. James Harden
This matchup will easily be the most watched matchup in this series as these two MVP candidates will go head to head. These two players are responsible for most of their team’s offense as Kawhi Leonard’s’ usage percentage is 31.5 percent and James Harden usage percentage is 37.8 in the playoffs so far. They make their teams go and it’s most likely that whoever wins this matchup will head to the conference finals. Kawhi will have a little more impact on this individual matchup as he will likely be guarding James Harden majority of the time.
Harden has shot poorly in the playoffs so far as he is shooting 41 percent from the field, and having the reigning two-time Defensive Player of the Year guarding you won’t make it any better.But, recently Gregg Popovich stated "Kawhi Leonard is, in my opinion, the best player in the league right now. He's the best two-way player and does it all with such class. It's impressive." Now it wasn’t a direct shot at Harden, but as a superstar it will definitely can be used as motivation to out play him.
Lamarcus Aldridge vs. Rockets Frontcourt
Now I’d hate to single out Aldridge or compare him to the Rockets frontcourt because he is clearly better than Nene and Clint Capela, but as Stephen A. Smith said “there needs to be an APB out for him”. Aldridge was a virtual no show in the first round as he averaged 14.8 points and 7.3 rebounds per game. Trust me; those 7.3 rebounds are a bit misleading as he had two rebounds in one game and four in another. Meanwhile, Nene is averaging 13.6 points and 6.6 rebounds per game in about 15 less minutes than Aldridge and Capela is averaging 6.6 rebounds in the same amount of time.
So it’s not absurd to make this comparison as the Rockets frontcourt is good on the boards and Capela is tremendous on defense. For the Spurs to have any chance of winning this series Lamarcus Aldridge needs to play better and grab boards.
The Houston Rockets are a predominantly three point shooting team and that’s where most of their success has come from, but they have struggled in these playoffs so far. According to NBA.com, the Rockets shot 28.3 percent from three point range last round, with Ryan Anderson shooting 3 for 24 and James Harden shooting 12 for 50. Now they managed to win the series against the Oklahoma Thunder because well it’s the Thunder, but they will not beat the Spurs shooting just 28 percent from three.
In their season series matchup, the pace was at 98.4 and the Rockets usually play at a higher pace (100), which is third in the NBA. The Spurs on the other hand, play at a typically lower pace (93.8), which was 24th in the NBA. You see where I’m going here? The Spurs need to control the pace of the game and since the playoffs are usually slower, the advantage is in their favor. If Spurs can control the pace, they will have a great chance of winning the series.
As competitive as this series will be, the San Antonio Spurs will win in 6 games. Expect to see more of the same three point shooting percentage from the Rockets and one has to believe that Aldridge will play better in this round. I mean he can’t play any worse, right? Make no mistake though, the key to this series will be Kawhi Leonard. Kawhi’s defense will help limit Harden’s offensive impact. It will be a close six games, but the Spurs will prevail.