One day after the NBA Eastern Conference Finals started, with a bang, in Boston - the Celtics winning easily against the Cleveland Cavs 108-83 - it's time for the Western Conference Finals to begin. Tonight the Rockets and the Golden State Warriors will meet for a much-anticipated Game one in Houston.

This is, by far, the Western Conference Finals that everybody wanted and expected. First and foremost, the Rockets' front office that built the team last summer to have the weapons to stop the Warriors from going for their second Championship title in a row.

Both teams didn't sweat that much in the first stage of the postseason. Houston beat the Minnesota Timberwolves and the Utah Jazz in the first two playoff rounds. The Warriors won against the San Antonio Spurs and then did the same against the New Orleans Pelicans. Both teams reached the Conference Finals with the same exact record: 12 wins and just one loss. Needless to say that the vast majority of NBA pundits and experts consider this showdown as a virtual NBA Finals, expecting the winning team as the most natural candidate to win the title against each of the two Eastern Conference Finals opponents.

A fundamental question

Where will the Rockets win this series? They will win the Conference Finals mainly in defense.

It is evident that the Rockets' General Manager, Daryl Morey, traded for Chris Paul, signed PJ Tucker and Luc Mbah A Moute last summer to create an improved supporting cast around superstar James Harden. The explicit goal was to reach this stage of the season and pose a severe threat to the Warriors on both sides of the floor.

This is why, when putting a team like the Rockets under the microscope to break it down, the primary point of examination is on how they operate in their own half of the court.

The Rockets seem to have done a remarkable job in making life tough for their opponents so far into the playoffs. Sekou Smith, on, while presenting the Conference Finals, confirms this assumption.

Houston is the second best team in defense in the playoffs allowing 102.1 points per 100 possession in the first two series played during the postseason. In particular, Houston starting five was able to keep their opponents at 92.3 points per 100 possession while staying on the court for 153 minutes.

These stats tell us something: That coach Mike D'Antoni's system is not only about protecting James Harden by continually switching on every opponent but about dictating, somehow, how the opponents will play on offense. It is also true that the Warriors are a different animal. They are a multi-dimensional team that can hurt opponents in every way and poses a lot of match-up questions to their opponents.

The Rockets will have to switch flawlessly and, especially in transition, they need to be disciplined and identify the shooters first and then going to fill the paint and protect the rim.

This last point of emphasis leads to the offensive side of the chess-match between Rockets and Warriors. As Zach Lowe correctly pointed out on ESPN, Houston usually places two shooters in the corners and, when James Harden has the ball, plays a pick and roll with center Clint Capela. The tendencies are quite clear for Houston: when playing in isolation, Harden usually goes for a three-point shot. When playing the pick-and-roll in the middle, he tends to drive to the basket and by reading how the defense reacts, decides whether to go on his own or pass the ball or launch an alley-hoop to Capela who's rolling to the basket.

When the latter happens, there are four players under the free-throw line. Hence, this kind of play needs to finish with Houston putting points on the scoreboard. Otherwise, the Warriors will be off to the races in transition, and they'll have the numbers to finish at will. This, and other problems – like, who's going to guard Durant for the vast majority of times – will need a thoughtful answer by the Rockets, entering into this series.

Where will the Golden State Warriors win the series? The Warriors will win the series if they play like their best version. Let's be honest. The Warriors played the regular season as if it was an unavoidable pain in the back to reach the playoffs. They switched a couple of gears in the first two series, knowing that would have been enough to safely get through.

Now it's the time when the best version of the Warriors must show up. Not in spurts, but for the whole length of a Basketball game.

Much will depend on three things. Two of them on the defensive side of the ball, and the third on the offensive one. Defensively the Warriors' primary problem to be solved is how to guard Harden. The Utah Jazz, somehow, showed everyone that one key to limit Harden on offense is to make it tough for him to drive to the basket. The idea of holding on tight for the first two-three dribbles when Harden drives to the basket helps the defense to buy some time for the other defenders to be in the right position to cover the alley-hoop to Capela or the pass to the shooters at the three points line.

The Warriors looked quite lethargic in helping and recovering when meeting the Rockets in the regular season. But that was, as said, a bored-to-death version of the Golden State Warriors. The assumption, here, is that approach will be very different starting from tonight.

The second defensive problem is how to cover Clint Capela when the Rockets' center rolls to the basket. This is one deadly weapon that the Rockets have in the fold, especially when Harden beats the man. What coach David Thorpe said in different podcasts is correct: the Warriors need to take Capela early in the play and force him to put the ball on the floor and break up the timing between him and Harden in pick and roll situations.

The third element is on offense. Baxter Holmes explained it in a report on ESPN Magazine. There will be a moment when the Warriors will make a run. There's always a moment like that in a Golden State Warriors game. It had happened since Steve Kerr took office as Golden State's head coach four years ago. Those 10-0 runs, or even more, that usually break the game in two and give a boost to the Warriors. As Holmes reports, under Kerr, the Warriors have been able to go on a 10-0 or more for 253 or more with a record of 165 wins and 20 losses. Everybody knows that the Warriors will have that kind of offensive explosions. Will the Rockets be able to weather the storm and keep their composure?

The key men

James Harden of the Houston Rockets is key, not for what he will do on offense but mainly, for what he will be able to do in defense. This is a defining moment for his career as an NBA superstar and, mostly, as a winner. There's no doubt that Harden will play an excellent series on offense, where he can do it all. 1.220 points per possession in isolation situations and 0.909 in pick and roll situations (according to Synergy per He will score. He will serve assists in bunches. He will be the perfect decoy for his teammates who will take advantage of his presence on the floor. But, he ought to defend. That's mandatory for the Rockets. Harden ought to bring his A-game in defense to reach the NBA Finals.

He can't let his teammates work hard and switch on defense to just cover his woes. He ought to contribute. Otherwise, it will be dire for the Rockets.

Kevin Durant, of the Golden State Warriors, is the X-factor of the series for the Warriors. Draymond Green is the most important player on defense. Everybody knows that. Andre Iguodala, after an anonymous regular season nursing various injuries, got back to full form just in time for the playoffs. Stephen Curry is back in action at a reasonable level (24.5 points per game in the series against New Orleans) after having recovered from a knee injury. However, the man that nobody can guard in any Rockets lineup is Kevin Durant. He is the Swiss-army-knife that can open any defense.

He has been efficient either in isolation as well on pick and roll situation (52percent combined thanks to Synergy again), with 1.370 points per possession on spot-ups and 1.515 on cuts.

Making the prediction

Lowe is right in saying that the home court advantage is a factor and must be taken into consideration when evaluating this series. The Rockets worked hard to win 65 games in the regular season. They did it to have the support of the home crowd in a potentially historic game seven that could open the door to the Finals for them. The question is: will the Rockets be able to push the reigning NBA Champions to the limit and force a game seven? And another one: will the Rockets be able to win four times against the Warriors?

The Rockets have the firepower to put a lot of points on the scoreboard even in single quarters (the 50 points they scored against Minnesota in the third quarter of game-4 of the series against the Timberwolves). The Warriors have the so-called Hamptons lineup – Durant-Curry-Green-Thompson-Curry- that has a net rating of 41points over 100 possessions at an astonishing pace of 114.21 points per 100 possessions. The Rockets will stretch this series as long as they can. But the Warriors have too many weapons and will win in six games.