Stephen Curry and James Harden first duked it out for the NBA’s MVP trophy, and now the superstar guards are vying for the Western Conference’s spot in the Finals. The Golden State Warriors cruised to the best record in the league behind Curry, who handily walked away with the first MVP of his career with 100 first place votes, compared to 25 for the Houston Rockets' Harden.
Game 1 of the conference finals begins Tuesday night from Oracle Arena in Oakland, with the series victor moving on to face either the Cleveland Cavaliers or Atlanta Hawks, who start their matchup Wednesday night in Atlanta.
The Warriors swept the Rockets in their four-game season series, with Curry leading the way with a 25.7-point scoring average while Harden finished at 25.2 points per game. Arguably the two most effective scoring guards in basketball, their upcoming duel for a spot in the finals renews the debate of who has been the more valuable contributor to their team. Many believed the MVP vote should have been closer. However, there’s no question either team would have gotten this far without their respective superstars. Though Harden does have the chance to trump Curry when it matters most.
Harden helped lift the Rockets out of a seemingly impossible 3-1 series deficit against the Los Angeles Clippers in the previous round, notching a triple-double in Game Five of that series and overcoming the flu as well. He’s putting up 26.7 points, 4.8 rebounds, and 8.0 assists through 12 playoff games.
Curry guided the Warriors out of a 2-1 hole against the Memphis Grizzlies, one of the best defensive clubs in the league, dropping 32 points and 10 assists in the decisive Game 6 108-95 victory to close out the series. He worked out of a shooting slump, rediscovering his long range touch to go 18-for-35 from deep in the last three games against the Grizzlies, all Golden State victories.
It's possible Curry and Harden will surge throughout the series, canceling out each other’s stellar production and leaving the outcome of the series in the hands of a host of fellow stars who have come up equally big during the postseason.
Lost in the shuffle a bit with Harden playing so well is the consistent production from Rockets center Dwight Howard. The veteran big man missed half the regular season with a knee injury but in the postseason has exploded for a double-double in nine of Houston’s 12 games, including a 20-point, 21-rebound effort in Game 6 against the Clippers. He’s also altering and swatting shots at 2.5 blocks per game.
Houston also surged to the No. 2 seed in the conference behind Golden State after acquiring versatile forward Josh Smith. Capable of defending almost every position and cleaning the glass, Smith put up 17.4 points and 6.4 rebounds in the opening round against the Dallas Mavericks, and later worked his way out of slump with 15 and 19 points, respectively, in Games 6 and 7 against the Clippers.
With point guard Patrick Beverley still sidelined with a torn ligament in his left wrist, the Rockets received huge minutes from swingman Corey Brewer and veterans Trevor Ariza and Jason Terry. Brewer totaled 19 points and 10 rebound in Game 6 versus the Clippers, and converted 53.3 percent of his three-point attempts in the first round. Terry and Ariza, the most playoff tested players on the Rockets, shined late against the Clippers, as well. Ariza nailed 6-of-12 three-points in Game 7, and averaged 16.7 points and 6.9 rebounds throughout the series. Terry’s shot wasn’t falling in the last two games, but he contributed with six assists and nine rebounds.
The Rockets clearly have the depth to hang with a Warriors squad that put up a league-best 110 points and 27.4 points a game during the regular season.
After Curry’s 28.2 points, there’s fellow All-Star shooting guard Klay Thompson racking up 20.7 points on 48.1 percent shooting overall, a near equal mark of 47.7 percent from three-point range throughout the postseason.
Golden State’s secret weapon, small forward Draymond Green, saw his shooting plummet to 38.7 percent against Memphis, but he hit the boards and average 12.5 points, 8.3 rebounds and 4.3 assists. He has also recorded seven double-doubles this postseason.
The Warriors haven’t asked big man Andrew Bogut to carry much of the scoring load in the playoffs, but he will have his hands full against Howard. The Australian’s averaging 5.3 points, 8.3 rebounds and two blocks in 25.9 minutes over 10 games.
Start Time: 9 p.m. ET
TV Channel: ESPN
Live Online: A live stream is available at Watch ESPN here
Betting Odds: Warriors -10; o/v 219 points
Prediction: Warriors over Rockets, 110-94