With the Golden State Warriors already locked in for the Western Conference Finals — having swept the Utah Jazz — which team would be the best competitive match up against the Warriors, the San Antonio Spurs or the Houston Rockets?
Both teams have suffered injuries to key players. The Rockets lost center Nene Hilario in game four with what was originally ruled a groin injury. Later, it was announced that it was a left adductor (thigh) tear and that he would be out for the remainder of the postseason.
Prior to that, Hilario was playing a key role in the Rockets rotation. Coming off the bench, he was providing a spark the Rockets needed from a bench that was already thin to begin with. The Rockets are really going to miss him.
In his absence, the Rockets will have to play Ryan Anderson more with the smaller lineup and lean on starter Clint Capela to play more minutes at center.
The Spurs have suffered injuries from key players as well. First, starting point guard Tony Parker went down with a ruptured quad tendon. The 34-year-old guard suffered the injury in game two as the Spurs evened the series against the Rockets at 1-1.
The veteran has undergone a successful surgery and the Spurs started rookie point guard Dejounte Murray in Parker’s place. San Antonio will now look to Murray, Patty Mills and others to pick up the slack against James Harden, Patrick Beverly, Lou Williams and the rest of the Rockets sharp-shooting guards.
Leading the series 3-2 heading into game six May 11, the Spurs are trying to hold it together so they can move on to the Western Conference Finals where the Warriors are waiting. The Spurs also are concerned about an injury to their most important player, Kawhi Leonard.
Leonard suffered a sprained left ankle in the fourth quarter of game five. Even though Leonard indicated after the game in a post-game interview that he was not going to miss any time, he was officially listed as questionable for game six against the Rockets.
Game five went into overtime where the heroic play of 39-year-old veteran guard Manu Ginobli helped the Spurs seal the game to take back the series lead and give the Spurs a chance to close out the series.
Assuming that Leonard turns out to be all right and the Rockets stay healthy with the players they have now, which team will be more of a challenge for the Warriors? The Warriors were 3-1 against the Rockets this season, but history is on the side of the Spurs.
I look for the Spurs to have the best shot against the Warriors, should they get by the Rockets. The Spurs took the season series against the Warriors and have beaten the Warriors five times in the last three seasons. That is more than any other team.
The Spurs had the NBA’s best defense during the regular season in which the Warriors came in second. During the playoffs, the Spurs are second in bench scoring, the Warriors on the other hand are ranked sixth. The Spurs also won the second most games this season, with an ending record of 61-21, behind the Warriors who ended the season at 67-15.
Should the Spurs close out the series against the Rockets May 11, we can start preparing for the Western Conference final.
In the Eastern Conference, we have a parallel situation as the Boston Celtics took the series lead May 10 against the Washington Wizards and now lead 3-2. They will have the opportunity to close out their series in Washington, D.C. May 12. Similar to round one, round two for the Wizards has been all about home court advantage.
Both teams have won their home games but do not seem to have the formula to win on the road. The Wizards are looking to extend the series to game seven. The Celtics are looking to be the first team to win a road game in this series.
Should they do so, they will move on to meet the Cavaliers in the Eastern Conference Finals. Celtics guard, Avery Bradley led all scorers in the game with 29 points, 25 of which came in the first half. He helped push the Celtics to a 123-101 win over the Wizards.
Shaquita Newton is a sports blogger. She can be reached firstname.lastname@example.org.