The second-round series between the Golden State Warriors and Houston Rockets completely changed in Game 5. The defending champs took a 3-2 series lead, but they'll have to finish off their opponent without their best player.

Kevin Durant suffered a mild calf strain in Wednesday night's victory. Golden State defeated Houston with the forward in the locker room, and he'll be out for the remainder of the conference semifinals.

One year ago, Houston blew a 3-2 series lead when Chris Paul missed two games with a hamstring injury. Now, the Rockets have a chance to take advantage of an injury suffered by maybe the top basketball player on the planet.

The fact that the Warriors were short-handed didn't help the Rockets in Game 5. James Harden was invisible down the stretch, and his only shot attempt in the final 10 minutes was a virtually meaningless layup when the game was almost in hand for Golden State. Chris Paul was even worse in the fourth quarter, finishing the game with 11 points on 14 field-goal attempts.

 




 

 

Will Houston’s stars step up knowing Golden State will be without their all-world scorer for an entire 48 minutes? The oddsmakers sure seem to think so, considering the Rockets are seven-point home favorites in Game 6, according to OddsShark. The total is 212.5

It’s easily the biggest playoff underdogs the Warriors have been under head coach Steve Kerr, and with good reason. Golden State won a championship before signing Durant, but this is a very different team.

The Warriors lacked depth even before the playoffs began. After injuries to Durant and DeMarcus Cousins, Golden State’s No.1 weakness will be on full display in a must-win game for the Rockets and the reigning league MVP.

Even after his early exit in the third quarter of Game 5, Durant leads the Warriors with 212 minutes played. He sat for no more than five minutes in each of the first four games.

Where are Durant’s minutes going to go? A combination of Kevon Looney, Shaun Livington and Jonas Jerebko?

Looney was very solid in 22 minutes Wednesday, but he hasn’t played more than that in nearly three months. Livingston is a shell of his old self with 29 total points in the playoffs. Jerebko has seven total points in 35 postseason minutes.

It’s possible that Golden State’s offense will run more smoothly at times since they know Durant won’t be able to bail them out with his brilliant isolation scoring. Stephen Curry and Klay Thompson both came alive once Durant left Game 5.

Houston’s defense had been terrific before Wednesday’s fourth quarter. The Rockets’ game plan will look to limit Curry and Thompson, forcing the likes of Draymond Green and Andre Iguodala to become shooters.

Harden came up big for Houston at home after they dropped the first two games of the series. With Durant sidelined, the guard should keep the Rockets’ title hopes alive for at least another night.

Game 6 Prediction: Houston over Golden State, 108-99

Stephen Curry Kevin Durant Warriors Stephen Curry #30 and Kevin Durant #35 of the Golden State Warriors stand on the court during their game against the Washington Wizards at Oracle Arena in Oakland, California, Oct. 24, 2018. Photo: Ezra Shaw/Getty Images