(SportsNetwork.com) - The Golden State Warriors and Houston Rockets, the top two teams in the Western Conference, meet in the conference finals, starting Tuesday night with Game 1 at Oracle Arena.
The winner of the best-of-seven series will advance to the NBA Finals.
Golden State, which tied for the sixth-best regular-season mark in NBA history at 67-15, is in the conference title series for the first time since 1976. The Warriors swept the New Orleans Pelicans in the first round, then found a tougher road in round two.
It took six games to beat the Memphis Grizzlies in the conference semis, and there was a time things looked bleak. Memphis became the first visitor since January to win in Oracle Arena, then took Game 3 back home for a 2-1 series lead.
Staring down the possibility of its first three-game losing streak of the season, Golden State responded with three consecutive victories to get into uncharted waters.
Only one member of the Warriors -- backup guard Leandro Barbosa -- previously played in the conference finals.
"The pressure goes up a notch, the level of intensity goes up a notch, but we're excited to be part of it," said Warriors center Andrew Bogut.
The Rockets have much more experience on deep playoff runs, although, not as Rockets. Jason Terry and Trevor Ariza are both title winners, while superstars James Harden and Dwight Howard have been to the NBA Finals and lost.
Houston, which hasn't been to the conference finals since 1997, had a much tougher task reaching this point.
After a relatively easy series with the Dallas Mavericks, the Rockets fell behind the Los Angeles Clippers, 3-1. LA took Game 1 in Houston without Chris Paul, then demolished the Rockets in Games 3 and 4 in Los Angeles. Houston rebounded some with a win at home in Game 5, then pulled off the improbable in Game 6.
Down as many as 19 in the second half, the Rockets stormed back for victory. They hammered the Clips in the fourth, and Harden, who finished second to Golden State's Steph Curry in MVP voting, was on the bench.
Harden responded with a masterful Game 7 Sunday in Houston. He had 31 points, eight assists and seven rebounds and the Rockets cruised into a matchup with Golden State.
"I'm really proud of the guys, how they fought all year long," Harden said.
Houston dealt with adversity all season. Howard missed half the campaign with a knee injury. Josh Smith was signed after an embarrassing release from the Detroit Pistons. Corey Brewer was acquired during the season, as was Pablo Prigioni, who was huge in Game 7. Patrick Beverley and Donatas Motiejunas are both sidelined with injuries.
Golden State remained healthy most of the campaign.
The Warriors led the NBA in scoring during the regular season, while the Rockets were sixth. Golden State was 15th in opponents' scoring, but first in opponents' field-goal percentage. Houston was 17th in points allowed.
If the regular season is any kind of barometer, a Rockets fan may want to look away. The Warriors swept four games from the Rockets by an average of 15.3 points, including a 131-106 blowout in Houston.
"The regular season doesn't mean anything," said Warriors coach Steve Kerr. "We handled them well, but we haven't played them since late January. The personnel is different, the momentum is different. Our guys should have the right mix of confidence and restraint."
Game 2 will be Thursday.