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Western Conference Finals: Houston Rockets vs Golden State Warriors


• Houston and Golden State are meeting in the playoffs for the third time, all in the last four years. The Warriors defeated the Rockets in the 2015 Western Conference Finals and the 2016 first round.


• This matchup is highly anticipated. The Rockets produced the best regular season in team history to wrest the top seed from the Warriors, who had it the previous three seasons. The teams have combined for 46 NBA All-Star selections. Golden State’s Stephen Curry and Kevin Durant have been NBA MVPs and Houston’s James Harden might soon be one. Golden State’s Draymond Green and Houston’s Eric Gordon were last season’s NBA Defensive Player of the Year and Sixth Man Award winner, respectively. Houston’s Mike D’Antoni was the 2016-17 NBA Coach of the Year, an award that Golden State’s Steve Kerr won the prior season.


• Houston won two of three matchups in the regular season, all of which were played before February and the second of which didn’t include Kevin Durant or James Harden. On opening night, the Rockets rallied from a 17-point deficit to spoil the Warriors’ championship ring night. The combined score for the three regular-season meetings: Warriors 353, Rockets 352.


• Golden State is looking to join the short list of franchises that have reached the NBA Finals in four straight years. Boston (twice), the Los Angeles Lakers and Miami are the only teams to do it. (Cleveland could also accomplish the feat by winning the 2018 Eastern Conference Finals.)


• Houston is seeking its first NBA Finals appearance since 1995. That year, the Rockets won the second of back-to-back NBA championships. They did so as the sixth seed in the Western Conference, the lowest seed to ever win an NBA title.


• These are the NBA’s two best offenses this season – and two of the best ever. Warriors offensive rating: 112.3; Rockets offensive rating: 112.2. They go about scoring much differently, with Golden State relying on ball movement and Houston favoring the one-on-one and pick-and-roll skills of James Harden and Chris Paul.


• Houston general manager Daryl Morey has acknowledged that the Rockets are “obsessed” with beating the Warriors, as reflected in their personnel moves. Last summer, in addition to acquiring Chris Paul, the Rockets signed well-regarded wing defenders P.J. Tucker and Luc Mbah a Moute (Cameroon) – two more options to guard Kevin Durant. Tucker and Mbah a Moute helped Houston improve to sixth in defensive rating this season, up from 18th last season. The Rockets ranked three spots higher than the Warriors this season.


• The Warriors and Rockets have combined to rewrite the record books for three-point shooting. Golden State’s Stephen Curry and Klay Thompson are the most prolific single-season three-point shooters in NBA history. Houston, meanwhile, has set the league record for three-pointers made in a season two years in a row, initially breaking the record set by the Warriors in 2015-16.


• Chris Paul and his coach, Mike D’Antoni, are two of the NBA’s most influential figures at their respective positions over the last dozen years or so. Both are looking to make the NBA Finals for the first time. This is Paul’s first appearance in the Conference Finals; D’Antoni lost his previous two Conference Finals trips, in 2005 and 2006 with Phoenix.


• Stephen Curry and Chris Paul have built a compelling rivalry. Both were high school stars in North Carolina. While in college, Curry learned from Paul – then a young pro – at summer camps. They appeared in a State Farm commercial together. They went head-to-head as the Warriors-Clippers rivalry blossomed, with Paul the established star and Curry the emerging one. Paul’s Clippers edged Curry’s Warriors in a seven-game first-round playoff series in 2014 – the last time Golden State lost to a West opponent in the postseason.


• Chris Paul and Golden State’s David West were teammates for six seasons with the New Orleans Pelicans. They emerged as NBA All-Stars together, formed a devastating pick-and-roll combination and became close friends. Last year, in his 14th season, West made the NBA Finals for the first time (and won it). This year, Paul is trying to do the same in his 13th season.


• Houston’s James Harden and Golden State’s Klay Thompson have been rivals since they were teens. They played against each other in high school in Southern California, in college in the Pac-12 and now as All-Star shooting guards in the NBA. They were also Team USA teammates at the 2014 FIBA World Cup.


• The Harden-Thompson matchup is intriguing in part because of their contrasting styles. Harden is the NBA’s premier one-on-one player, isolating more than anyone in the NBA. Thompson, who has led the NBA in catch-and-shoot points for three straight seasons, famously took 11 dribbles to score 60 points in a 2016 game.


• Warriors player development consultant Steve Nash won two NBA MVP awards under Mike D’Antoni in Phoenix, where point guard and coach combined to orchestrate some of the best offenses in league history. Another guard – James Harden – could very well win the MVP award under D’Antoni this season.


• Houston’s Clint Capela (Switzerland) turned 21 the day before the start of the 2015 Western Conference Finals, in which he played sparingly (but promisingly) as a rookie when the Rockets lost to the Warriors. Three years later, Capela is an essential player at both ends of the court for Houston. His defense, rebounding and NBA-leading field goal accuracy have made him an emerging star and a Most Improved Player candidate.


• Houston’s Ryan Anderson is a Northern California native who starred in college at California. Casual NBA fans might know him for his suicide prevention advocacy after the passing of his girlfriend, reality TV star Gia Allemand, in 2013. Anderson married actress Kari Klinkenborg last August.


• When James Harden was a rookie with Oklahoma City (2009-10), he briefly had Golden State’s Shaun Livingston as a teammate. At the time, Livingston was trying to rebuild his career after a devastating knee injury cut short his rise to stardom with the Clippers. After OKC waived him, Livingston played for five more teams before landing in Golden State, where he has spent the last four years as a valuable reserve.


• Houston’s Gerald Green was not on an NBA regular-season roster this season until the Rockets signed him on Dec. 28. A week later, he made eight three-pointers and scored 29 points vs. the Warriors – one highlight from a solid season of instant offense off the bench. Green is a good example of a player who revived his NBA career in the NBA G League. In 2012, after returning from two years overseas, he won the NBA G League All-Star Game MVP award and days later earned a 10-day contract with the Nets. He has been in the NBA ever since.


• The teams are stocked with players and coaches who have made a difference in the community. Chris Paul’s and Stephen Curry’s efforts are well documented, and coaches Mike D’Antoni and Steve Kerr are both known to be very civic-minded. Some recent examples: James Harden donated $1 million to Hurricane Harvey relief efforts and met with victims; Kevin Durant is a finalist for the 2017-18 Seasonlong NBA Cares Community Assist Award; Klay Thompson raised more than $350,000 for the victims of Northern California wildfires.


• Mike D’Antoni and Steve Kerr worked together for one season (2007-08) in Phoenix, where Kerr was the first-year GM and D’Antoni was the veteran coach. Kerr credits D’Antoni with revolutionizing NBA offenses through a pace-and-space, positionless approach – some of which Kerr has adopted with the Warriors.


• Steve Kerr is the fourth coach in NBA history to lead his team to the Conference Finals in each of his first four seasons, joining Phil Jackson (Chicago), Pat Riley (Los Angeles Lakers) and John Kundla (Minneapolis Lakers).


• Draymond Green averaged a triple-double against New Orleans in the Conference Semifinals. He is the first player in Warriors history to average a triple-double in a playoff series.


• Golden State has won 15 consecutive playoff home games, matching the NBA record set by Chicago from 1990 to 1991. The Warriors can break the record in Game 3 of this series.