In the modern NBA, is the sheer force of will of one singular great player enough to push his team to victory when the stakes are at their highest? It’s a legitimate question to ask after the early results of our two conference finals series in which LeBron James put up a 40 point triple-double and James Harden also scored 40 to leave their teams a combined 0-3 in this first handful of games. Sure LeBron’s greatness can carry the Cavs past the Pacers of the world and Harden’s stellar isolation offense can keep Minnesota at bay. But do both teams have enough besides those key parts to actually hang with more well-rounded, talented across the board, and likely better coached squads?
Tonight is a good litmus test. The Rockets have already lost their home court advantage but can save some face with a win in Game 2. And they’ll need more than James Harden and even Chris Paul coming out guns blazing to do so. Which players are most likely to shine in our big Western Conference finals matchup? With the help of Awesemo’s rankings, ownership projections, and this very column we’ll try to find out.
Golden State Warriors (111.25 implied points, +1.5 on their last 10 games) at Houston Rockets (113.25 implied points, +10 on their last 10 games)
All the beliefs about the various ways the Rockets could defend Kevin Durant were for naught in Game 1 with PJ Tucker, Trevor Ariza, and Luc Mbah A Moute along with Clint Capela and even Nene all taking cracks at stopping the Warriors star. The result? A 37% usage rate in which Durant hit over 50% of his shots overall along with 3-of-6 from three and this fine moment in which Durant declared, accurately, that Ariza can’t guard him:
Kevin Durant to Trevor Ariza:
— Hashtag Basketball (@hashBasketball) May 15, 2018
The Rockets will need to do more to stop Durant but he’s playing at such a high level that I really doubt their success. Because of how Showdown slates are so dependent upon pricing and ownership levels, I don’t think you’ll necessarily need Durant to win the slate but he’s the strongest play on the Warriors’ side in my opinion. Steph Curry was similarly effective in the matchup but this really has been Durant’s team in these playoffs. I’d be more inclined to roster Durant unless the price difference between the two made a huge lineup construction difference, which is a possibility given Curry’s status as a B value in Awesemo’s rankings that is the highest of the Warriors starters. Draymond Green didn’t have the run of the house he did in the Pelicans series and his focus was more on mitigating Clint Capela’s potential to do damage than it was on driving the offense or even rebounding. I’m not banking on Draymond tonight with his price in the same territory as Steph and Durant on DraftKings although he can be considered on FanDuel. Klay Thompson was great in Game 1 and put up an outrageous 15 three point attempts in the process. With all of the Rockets’ attention on stopping Durant and Curry, Klay should continue to be a beneficiary. I’m okay with Andre Iguodala although this matchup doesn’t fit him as perfectly as the Pelicans one did. He can have value in a single-game slate if his price helps make a roster construction work. Out of the lower tier players, Kevon Looney saw the most action but the least usage. He’s one of just two A values on Awesemo’s rankings so there may be something there. Nick Young filled in for Klay off the bench and had similar open looks in limited action. He’s an okay very cheap flyer to play in the hopes he differentiates your lineup at low ownership. Shaun Livingston gets decent run as the backup point guard and also fits a similar profile to Young with slightly less risk. David West got very little run while Quinn Cook and Jordan Bell got none…I would avoid that trio for now with maybe mild exposure to West only if you’re entering multiple lineups unless you expect a blowout.
Both James Harden and Chris Paul were as effective as they’ve been all year versus Golden State and it wasn’t enough to keep up. That’s troubling for the Rockets as a team. Increasing upon the 10 assists combined between Harden and Paul should be a focus for the duo and that would open up more offensive opportunities for the other guys on the floor. Clint Capela seems like the most obvious player to point to as a possible beneficiary who also has a ceiling that could be helpful. More pick and rolls with Capela would give him a shot at being the difference maker in the series many, myself included, think he can be as well as opening things up for other players on their side. The matchup versus Draymond is tough but Capela is a player with some potential upside whose ownership should take a hit after a mediocre Game 1. Harden and Paul will both get theirs and it’s splitting hairs about whether they’re going to perform better than the similarly priced players on the Warriors’ side. I expect Paul to play with some more urgency tonight but Harden has the highest ceiling on the slate so there are benefits to both guys. Eric Gordon was the third scorer in Game 1 and I have no issue with him again in Game 2. Trevor Ariza, PJ Tucker, and Luc Mbah A Moute all have the chance to generate more offense if the game breaks their way. Tucker seemed reluctant to shoot in Game 1, possibly because of the energy expense on the other side he had dealing with Durant and Draymond. I like what Tucker’s done so far these playoffs so it’s possible he bounces back but based on Game 1’s results, Ariza — who wasn’t as bad of a play as he seemed due to foul trouble — and Mbah A Moute would be the players I’d look to moreso. Gerald Green is a cheapy flyer who may be able to help out, although his Game 1 minutes are a bit of an optical illusion due to how many fouls Ariza picked up. I would consider Ryan Anderson as another one-off punt in the off chance coach Mike D’Antoni believes that the only way the Rockets compete is more firepower and Anderson gets carte blanche to jack threes. He’s mostly useless though.
And there it is, another crucial Game 2 in the books. You can get some more skin in the game by joining our Playline contest tonight where all you have to do is guess the stat lines for Steph Curry, Draymond Green, and James Harden for a shot at a $1,000 grand prize (and $1 million if you somehow nailed the lines perfectly). Go join up and get free money for signing up and even more if you deposit with our referral code.