The #2 seeded San Antonio Spurs and #3 seeded Houston Rockets will face off in the second round of the Western Conference playoffs. Game 1 will be held tonight (Monday) at 9:30 PM EST on TNT. The Spurs took out the Grizzlies in six games while the Rockets took out the Thunder in five games.
When looking at this series, what stands out is the matchup between Spurs small forward Kawhi Leonard and Rockets shooting guard James Harden. Leonard averaged 31.2 points, 6.0 rebounds, and 2.0 steals per game in the series against the Grizzlies, while Harden averaged 33.2 points, 6.4 rebounds, and 7.0 assists per game against the Thunder. Both guys will be expected to deliver the goods for their respective teams and live up to their MVP billing.
If the Spurs are going to win this series, they'll need more than just Kawhi Leonard. LaMarcus Aldridge and Tony Parker will need to come up big as well. Both guys played well against the Grizzlies, but they'll need to continue to provide the type of support that Leonard needs. Pau Gasol will also likely need to produce more than the 6.5 points per game that he was averaging against the Grizzlies. If this turns into the Kawhi Leonard show, the Spurs could be in trouble due to the plethora of weapons that the Rockets have.
In addition to James Harden, the Rockets have other guys who give defenses trouble in Eric Gordon, Nene, Lou Williams, and Ryan Anderson. Even their defensive specialist on the perimeter Patrick Beverley knows how to score when needed. The Rockets' potency on offense will make them a tough opponent for the Spurs and will require the Spurs to play excellent defense both on the perimeter and down on the block.
The big advantage the Spurs have over the Rockets is that the style they play is a more proven formula for success. The Spurs have a nice blend of inside and outside play with Kawhi Leonard, LaMarcus Aldridge, and Tony Parker as their core trio. Leonard is a Swiss army knife that does it all, giving them a lot of versatility on offense and defense.
The Rockets in contrast heavily rely on their three-point shooting and truly adhere to the mantra "Live by the three, die by the three." When the Rockets heat up from beyond the arc, they are very difficult to stop. When they get cold and the shots aren't falling, they suddenly become very vulnerable.
The Rockets' ability to get hot will make this series interesting, but given that Gregg Popovich's system is more proven for playoff success than the run and gun system of Mike D'Antoni, I see the Spurs coming out on top in six games. Kawhi Leonard will win the matchup against James Harden and the Spurs' championship pedigree will shine through.
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