Programming note: Watch "Warriors Playoff Central" on Saturday morning at 11:30am on CSN Bay Area, and immediately at the conclusion of Game 1.
OAKLAND – Part II of the Warriors’ quest to complete the best season in NBA history begins Saturday, when they invite the Houston Rockets into Oracle Arena for Game 1 and the sole purpose of annihilating them in public.
It’s conceivable, because it’s happened before. In the 17 months since Steve Kerr & Co. took over the coaching, the Warriors have won 11 of 12 games against Houston, including four of five in the 2015 Western Conference Finals.
Moreover, eight of those Warriors victories have been by double digits – including three by 20 or more points.
Yet if any franchise knows what dangers can await a No. 1 seed that overlooks an eight-seed, it’s the Warriors, who nine years ago as a No. 8 shocked Planet Hoops by ousting the top-seeded Mavericks in six games. Being the heavy favorite, as the Warriors are, ensures nothing.
Here is a look at the Warriors-Rockets series:
SMALL FORWARD: Harrison Barnes vs. Trevor Ariza
While Barnes’ season is defined by more lows than highs, he has looked pretty solid of late. Though Ariza is only 30, he’s showing signs of wear after logging 11 seasons. He shot 41.6 percent overall, but is among Houston’s better 3-point shooters, shooting 37.1 percent from deep. There’s a strong possibility the Rockets will “crossmatch” on defense, using Ariza on Klay Thompson but sending James Harden toward Barnes. There will be no shortage of opportunities for Barnes to shine.
POWER FORWARD: Draymond Green vs. Donatas Motiejunas/Clint Capela
Capable of playing all five positions at either end, Green is a power forward in name only. He’s too quick for bigger forwards, too strong for those in his size range. Former starter Terrence Jones, buried on the bench, has given way to Motiejunas and Capela, two 7-footers in the formative stage. Though Capela, who also plays center, can be a load on the glass, Green will find a way to exploit either of them.
CENTER: Andrew Bogut vs. Dwight Howard
Bogut’s history against Howard is beyond predicting. There have been games when Howard seemed unstoppable and games when Bogut put Howard in a straitjacket. One of the mysteries about the Rockets is their inconsistency at involving Howard in the offense. Bogut’s task will be to make Howard work on defense and keep him from owning the paint, particularly rebounding, on offense. If Bogut can limit Howard’s rim runs, the Warriors win the battle.
SHOOTING GUARD: Klay Thompson vs. James Harden
Count on Thompson as the primary defender on Harden, whose isolation ability gives opponents headaches. He is a great scorer and his offense is crucial to the Rockets having a chance in this series. If the Rockets even think about putting Harden on Thompson, Warriors coaches might start breakdancing on the sideline. Wherever Harden goes, he’s going to be a defensive liability.
POINT GUARD: Stephen Curry vs. Patrick Beverley
This is a highly anticipated matchup if only because Beverley is the league’s most irritating pest. His defensive approach to Curry is to bother him, to try and get into his head and out of his game. Curry relishes such challenges because they force him to maintain focus. Beverley has had mixed success, but in the end, Curry will be too much to handle.
The Warriors, healthy in all the right places, are the deepest team in the NBA. Andre Iguodala, Shaun Livingston, Marreese Speights, Festus Ezeli and Leandro Barbosa would be a decent starting unit. Expect James Michael McAdoo to have opportunities against the Houston big men.
Houston’s bench has been helped by, of all players, Michael Beasley. The vagabond forward has provided a scoring punch needed when playing alongside the likes of Montrezl Harrell, Andrew Goudelock and Capela. And, yes, Josh Smith and Corey Brewer are still on the team.