Los Angeles—Who will stand in the way of The King?
His fellow Most Valuable Player candidate James Harden or former MVP Steph Curry of the Golden State Warriors?
The advantage seems to be with Harden and the Rockets, whose 65 regular-season wins had earned them home-court edge throughout the NBA playoffs, including their Game 7 tussle with the Warriors today, an edge they aim to take advantage of.
The Rockets and Harden host the reigning champion Golden State Warriors in a decisive game seven of the Western Conference final with a trip to the NBA Finals on the line against LeBron James’ Cleveland Cavaliers, who put away the Boston Celtics in their own Game 7 duel, 87-79.
“There’s no pressure,” Harden said after the Rockets failed to close out the series in game six on Saturday.
Harden scored 32 points and handed out nine assists but also coughed up nine turnovers as the Rockets surrendered an early 17-point lead and fell 109-99 in Oakland.
“It’s an opportunity, though, an opportunity that we all are excited to be a part of,” he added. “Game seven at our house. That’s what we worked the entire regular season for, is a home-court advantage.
“We’re going to come out and we’re going to be ready. Nothing changes for us. We know what we have to do. We’re still confident. We’re a confident group. We’ve just got one chance.”
The Rockets expect to be buoyed by fans eager to see the club back in the title series for the first time since they won back-to-back titles in 1994 and 1995.
But coach Mike D’Antoni said he had “no idea” whether star point guard Chris Paul would be able to play after suffering a hamstring strain in game five.
Paul, a 13-year NBA veteran and nine-time All-Star who has never played in the NBA Finals, was a key factor in the game four and game five victories that put the Rockets on the brink of advancing.
But he was injured in the final minute of game five, and could only watch in frustration as the Rockets succumbed to the Warriors’ second-half onslaught on Saturday.
“Obviously we want to have him,” Rockets forward PJ Tucker said. “He’s one of the best point guards in the league, but if he doesn’t play, we’ll figure it out. We’re going to do what we’ve got to do to win this game.
“The five guys on the floor and whoever else is playing, we’re going to roll,” Tucker said. “It’s what we do. It’s what we’re built for.”
Curry scored 29 in that Game 6 win and got ample support from Klay Thompson, who scored 35 points, and Kevin Durant, who added 23 as the Warriors rallied from a 17-point first-quarter deficit to knot the best-of-seven series at 3-3—and keep their bid to reach a fourth straight championship series alive.
Thompson said the Warriors would be ready.
“Effort, intensity, passion, those three things and playing smart,” he said of what it will take to beat the Rockets on their home floor. “[If] we take the same focus and execute the game plan like we should I have all the confidence in the world in this team.”
James’ Herculean effort allowed the Cavs to beat a young but gritty Boston side in their thrilling 7-game series yesterday.
But “The King” and the rest of the Cavaliers are not out of the woods just yet as a more daunting task in the Finals await them when they face either of the two teams they have yet to conquer in the 2017-2018 regular season.
The Cavs lost all their games this season to the Houston Rockets and the defending champs Golden State Warriors.
They succumbed to GSW twice, 118-108 and 99-92, while suffering the same fate in their season series to the Rockets, 120-88, and 117-113.
But knowing James, who turns it up a notch when it matters most, these numbers will just be a footnote in the Finals, where he and the rest of the Land aim to take back the title they lost last year to the Dubs.
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