The Houston Rockets and the Golden State Warriors have been jockeying for the top spot in the league for just a couple of years. But already this feels like a deep-seeded blood feud that has gone on for decades. At least that’s how Rockets fans see it.
The Rockets had the best record in the NBA last season. They feel like Golden State robbed them of an entitlement in last year’s postseason seven-gamer.
They have been steaming ever since.
So they went at the Warriors in four regular-season games, winning three of them, including one without James Harden.
But that was then, and we all know the playoffs get the Warriors’ blood running.
The series opens a two-day stand at the Oracle on Sunday before the show comes to Houston’s Toyota Center next Saturday. And there are good reasons to buy tickets to the show.
Golden State Bridge
Not that the Warriors haven’t shown their flaws in the playoffs, so far. They certainly had some slip ups in winning the opening series, 4 games to 2 over the Los Angeles Clippers.
The most glaring flaw came in Game 2, when the Warriors coughed up a 31-point lead in the second half and lost, 135-131. But that silliness only lasted about a quarter and a half. The Warriors were in charge – when they needed to be – for the rest of the series. And against a tough Los Angeles side.
And will is the bridge they build between an out-of-control team to a dominant team.
Personnel wise, they seem up to speed, although DeMarcus Cousins was injured and is not expected to return, at least for this series.
That means Andrew Bogut will be counted on for defense underneath.
Defensive lapses on the inside may be a problem for the Warriors. Too many times during that rally in Game 2, the Warriors missed picks, failed to help, or simply stood and watched as the Clippers jammed it on them. Same in Game 5, when the Clippers chalked up 71 points in a half, on the way to a 129-121 win.
Nevertheless, Golden State always has a knack for picking it up when they absolutely have to.
The Warriors have the best offensive rating in the league, led by a cast of characters we know too well – Kevin Durant, Steph Curry, Draymond Green, et al.
That’s why they are – and have been all year – the team to beat.
And no one wants to beat them more than the Houston Rockets.
That may be why the Rockets have had their own swoons in the playoffs and the regular season.
Despite the fact that their first-round series with the Utah Jazz closed out in five games, there were points at which you got the idea that the Rockets were just distracted by the bright star on the horizon.
In the last three games of the series, the Jazz seemed to find a way to check Harden as the Rockets’ scoring slumped considerably. Harden averaged just 26 points over those three games, and his team under 100.
The Jazz pretty much dared Harden to drive the lane, a tactic the Warriors are not likely to try, unless they have more confidence in their inside game than they showed against the Clippers.
The Rockets got out of two of those games, but it muddied up the series enough to show that the Rockets can be harnessed.
And of course the question always arises at this time of the year: is Harden tired? He has shown signs of fatigue in the past. But, hey, this is Golden State; Harden will go on pure adrenaline if he has to.
Two key matchups to watch:
Harden vs. Curry – Both score a lot, but Harden doesn’t mind hitting the lane and dicing it up with the big boys. He’ll score more, because he is the team’s MVP.
Durant vs. PJ Tucker – Look, Clint Capela sure can’t chase Durant around the ring, and Tucker is the best option. Besides, Tucker can shoot 3s – 48 percent against the Warriors in the 2018 series.
You can find tickets to Game 3 in Houston if you go after them now. But expect sold out tickets at both venues.