Opinion: Warriors-Rockets drama gives Eastern Conference teams hope for NBA Finals

Opinion: Warriors-Rockets drama gives Eastern Conference teams hope for NBA Finals

April 30, 2019

OAKLAND — Modern NBA history tilts firmly in favor of the bigger, badder, better Western Conference and there is no sign of that trend slowing. The overwhelming favorites to win the title? The Golden State Warriors. The most popular pick for anyone who didn’t back the defending champions? The Houston Rockets.

The only realistic chance that one of those teams don’t end up winning it all?

If the current series between the two turns into a bloodbath.

The Warriors and Rockets did their best to knock the stuffing out of each other during Game 1 of their conference semifinal showdown at Oracle Arena on Sunday, with physical challenges, verbal potshots and attempts to sway the officials flying to and fro in equal measure.

It is an angsty series, filled with recriminations. It is petty and priceless, and a lot of it will be in the hands of the officials and how they respond to the lingering controversy over foul calls. There is a lot of desire from the Rockets to go one better than their conference finals heartbreak a year ago. The Warriors don’t like being challenged and want to flex their muscles. It is a tremendous rivalry and it is getting better.

But while it is the most fascinating contest possible in the league some of the keenest eyeballs will be from those partial to Eastern Conference teams.

Sure, the East’s finest are locked in their own battles right now. However, reality dictates that an NBA champion coming from somewhere in the vicinity of the Atlantic Coast hinges on what happens between Golden State and Houston.

If the Warriors and Rockets wear each other out, physically and emotionally, throwing shots all the way to an exhausting Game 7, maintaining the physicality and frenetic pace, then it is possible to see whichever team emerges, battered and fatigued, suffering an upset later.

Rockets star James Harden always is making his case. (Photo: Russell Isabella, USA TODAY Sports)

If the Warriors cruise to a sweep or the Rockets rebound with a streak of their own then it is difficult to envision how the skewed NBA championship statistics are going to even out.

Over the past two decades, Western Conference teams have won 14 of 20 titles. Thanks predominantly to the Warriors, the West has prevailed in four of the past five finals.

The regular season is another appropriate barometer of the standard of the respective conferences. Winning one game above .500 snared the sixth seed for the Brooklyn Nets. Across the country, the 48-34 mark of the Los Angeles Clippers was good enough only for the eighth seed, and a first round matchup against the imposing Warriors.

No doubt an Eastern champion would be good for the sport. This lopsided nature was exacerbated by LeBron James upping sticks for the Lakers and turning the Cleveland Cavaliers from NBA finalists into one of the worst teams in the league.

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