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OAKLAND — Fan loyalties are what they are and cannot be swayed. But consider this an appeal to any and all neutral parties out there. You must root for the Warriors against the Houston Rockets. It’s no less than a matter of good versus evil.

I’m not talking about morality. While here in the Bay Area we’d love to think of Stephen Curry as a guileless cherub and James Harden as a charlatan, the truth is that we don’t know really know these people. The Rockets may be just as hardworking, just as pleasant in conversation, just as upstanding as your Warriors.

No, I’m talking about aesthetics. The way the Warriors play basketball is good. It’s very, very good. The Rockets? Pure evil.

The Western Conference Finals begin Monday in Houston, and rarely has an NBA playoff series presented such a dramatic contrast in styles. KNBR radio host Tom Tolbert, speaking to his old friend Steve Kerr on Thursday afternoon, halfheartedly suggested that Kerr’s team stands for democracy while the Rockets represent communism. But that’s all wrong. Communism, at least in theory, is about equal distribution. Houston is the opposite of that. Its slogan is not “From each according to his ability, to each according to his needs.” It’s “From each according to his ability, to James Harden.”

Let me throw a few statistics at you. The Warriors led the NBA in assists this season, at 29.3 per game, and in secondary assists — passing to a passer, sometimes called “a hockey assist” — at 4.7 per game. They were fourth in the league in passes per game, at 322.7. The Rockets occupied the other end of the chart. They were tied for 26th in assists (21.5), tied for 29th in secondary assists (2.2) and dead last in passes (253.8).

Not that the Rockets didn’t have their strengths. The NBA tracks all sorts of numbers, including percentage of possessions that ended in isolation plays. The Rockets led the league (and it wasn’t close) at 14.5 percent; the Warriors were 17th at 6.4 percent. Houston ran pick-and-roll plays — the basketball equivalent of elevator music — on 25.9 percent of their possessions (ninth in the NBA). The Warriors were 29th at 15.3 percent.

But these are numbers, and we’re not talking about numbers. We’re talking about beauty. And I’m telling you, Warriors basketball is a bank of fog crashing over the Presidio on an otherwise sunlit day. Rockets hoops are rush hour on the 38-mile-long freeway loop that encircles downtown Houston.

Kerr likes to talk about his guys playing with “joy.” Joy is an internal state, but it has an outward expression on the basketball court. You see it when you watch the Warriors. They sprint every chance they get, and pass the ball as often as it makes sense (and sometimes even when it doesn’t).

These Warriors have drawn comparisons to Michael Jordan’s Bulls teams of the 1990s, largely because Kerr, who played in Chicago, connects the two, and because Golden State broke the Bulls’ record by going 73-9 a couple years ago. But the Warriors’ true NBA forefathers are the Showtime Lakers of the 1980s. They play with a similarly creative and freewheeling style. We’re all used to it by now, but it remains a pleasure.

“We make the simple look spectacular when we just play within our means,” shooting guard Klay Thompson said. “And it’s a beautiful thing to watch when you just watch basic, fundamental basketball, but you’re doing it with some of the best athletes in the world.”

The Rockets, by comparison, take fundamental basketball and drain it of spirit. They are static. They are defiantly predictable.

“They might disguise some things, but you know what’s coming,” Kerr said at practice Thursday. “It’s gonna be pick and roll, over and over again.”

And over again. It’s always Groundhog Day in Houston.

Actually, that’s not fair. Not every Rockets set is a pick and roll, with forward Clint Capela setting a screen for point guard Chris Paul, then diving to the basket. Sometimes it’s less exciting than that. Often, the Houston offensive system consists entirely of Harden or Paul working one-on-one against a defender, while teammates disperse to the far corners of the hardwood and check their cell phones for a minute.

The strategy is incredibly effective, because Harden (the likely MVP of the league this year) and Paul are so proficient at it. The Rockets scored almost as many points as the Warriors this year. But it’s also boring as hell. I mean, unless you can’t get enough of watching James Harden drive the lane against two defenders, initiate contact, awkwardly fling the ball toward the basket and then throw his arms into the air as if he had been jolted with a cattle prod.

I asked Warriors star Kevin Durant about the opposite approaches. He has thrived in both. Before signing with the Warriors, he was the poster child of isolation ball in Oklahoma City. He said he appreciates both.

“When you’re playing iso ball, you really can start to see the game slow down, and you start to see you can create little things out there to give you an advantage,” Durant said. “It’s fun figuring out the game that way. And then when a coach trusts in you to make those shots and lead that team on the offensive side of the basketball like that, it just creates mistakes. And then from those mistakes you learn, and that’s how you continue to keep getting better.”

As Durant suggested, the pick and roll requires quick thinking and highly refined moves.

It’s a model that appeals to gym rats, coaches, coaches’ sons and other wonks of the whiteboard. To everyone else, it’s a blight.

The crazy thing is, Houston coach Mike D’Antoni helped to pioneer the 94-foot-dash and rain-of-3s style of basketball. Kerr, in part, absorbed it from him when both were in Phoenix. But D’Antoni has betrayed his own system, seduced by Harden’s mastery of one-on-one. He helped give birth to Beauty, and now he has created the Beast.

It’s hard to fault him. D’Antoni’s embrace of the dark side helped the Rockets win 65 games this season. It’s why they hold the home-court advantage over the Warriors in this best-of-seven series, and why they have a chance to dethrone the champions in this epic clash of styles.

“All of it is the beauty of the game and the artistic feel of a game,” Durant said. “… The main goal is to put the ball in the basket or stop someone from putting the ball in the basket. So if you can find unique ways to do so, that’s how the game evolves.”

Except the Rockets make it look more like de-evolution. They have taken the Western Conference Finals back to the Stone Age. They must be stopped.

You can reach columnist Phil Barber at 707-521-5263 or phil.barber@pressdemocrat.com. Follow him on Twitter: @Skinny_Post.

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