One of the factors that is getting a lot of play in the lead-in to the NBA's Western Conference Final between Golden State and Houston is that the Warriors swept the four-game series between the two squads in the regular season. Given that the Warriors are a very popular team with the betting public, and currently a strong 4/7 favorite to win the NBA Championship at Bovada, a lot of people are using this record as an indicator of the inevitability of a Golden State win. But what does this actually mean? Is this a factor to get excited about or just more noise? Let's take a look:
The flashy stat: The reason that this is getting a whole lot of attention is that when a team has gone 4-0 against an opponent, and then met that opponent in the playoffs, they have a 55-6 record in those series. That seems like an overwhelming indicator that Golden State is in good shape here. At least on the surface. There are problems with this, though. Two of them we will look at soon. The third, though, is that though this trend is powerful, it has been far less so in recent years. In fact, three times in the last two years we have seen a swept team come back to gain revenge in the playoffs. Last year the Thunder swept the Spurs in the regular season, but San Antonio came back to beat Oklahoma City en route to their title. Also last year, the Heat were, improbably, swept by the Nets during the regular season, but Miami won four of five in the playoffs. The third instance came earlier this year when the Raptors, who had swept the Wizards in the regular season, were swept by Washington in the first round of the playoffs. So, while the trend is generally solid, we have seen recently that it can be overcome when other factors are in favor of the team that didn't succeed in the regular season. I'm not saying that that is the case here - I like Golden State, too. I'm just saying that it would be a mistake to get too excited about this trend and let it sway your handicapping in this series without giving things a closer look.
The new-look Rockets: The Rockets team that the Warriors will face now looks little like the one that the Warriors had their way with during the regular season. Dwight Howard played in only two of the four games. Jason Terry is starting now, but he didn't start any of the four games because he only became starter when Patrick Beverley was injured in late March. Josh Smith wasn't even with the Rockets for the first two meetings and wasn't starting in the second two. It seems like the roster that Houston is playing with now is better than the one they had earlier when playing the Warriors in the regular season. Whether you agree with that or not, the mere fact that it's different makes it difficult to attach too much significance to what happened in those four regular-season games.
The calendar: Nov. 8. Dec. 10. Jan. 17 and 21. Those are the four days that these two teams met. That means that the series was wrapped up nearly four weeks before the all-star break. The last meeting was one day short of four months before the start of this playoff series. Surely I don't need to tell you that four months is a very, very long time in sports. Aside from the roster changes for the Rockets, the teams have gained in experience and chemistry. The Warriors have had four more months to play under a rookie coach. They both played nearly 40 regular-season games since and now two rounds of the playoffs. It would be ridiculous to attach too much significance to what happened way back then. Far more significant is what has happened since and what form the teams are in at this moment. Sometimes the past is just the past.
The coaching: There are a lot of questionable coaches in the NBA who are seemingly not capable of getting the best out of their teams or adjusting and adapting to maximize their chances in a game or series. The two guys at the helm in this one certainly don't have that problem. Kevin McHale's record has improved in each of his four years with the Rockets. Steve Kerr has started his coaching career by looking like a 30-year veteran of the position. These two are among the true elites in the league. To think that they will do what they did back in January or that they won't have both adapted and changed many thing since then is just naive.
Read more articles by Trevor Whenham
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