Rockets playing for improbable season sweep of Warriors
In the aftermath of a ninth consecutive win, this one over the Charlotte Hornets on Monday, Rockets coach Mike D'Antoni allowed himself a moment of reflection, several minutes to acknowledge just how far Houston has come in advance of another showdown tilt.
The Rockets will host the Golden State Warriors on Wednesday at Toyota Center, seeking an improbable sweep of the four-game season series. Of equal significance is the opportunity Houston would gain with a win: The Rockets would close to within three games in the loss column of the two-time defending champs for the top overall seed in the Western Conference.
Houston is 31-11 since an early-season swoon left them three games under .500 a week into December. The Rockets rode MVP-level play from the reigning MVP, James Harden, in rebounding from their early doldrums, and have of late relied on their depth to close the gap on the Warriors. Three months ago, none of this seemed probable, something D'Antoni noted.
"With all the stuff we've gone through, all the ups and downs, starting from 11-14, we're in a good spot and we still have a chance to legitimately make a run for the first spot," D'Antoni said. "That's pretty good in any year, in any scenario, even if we were healthy all year."
That the Rockets aren't solely relying on Harden is important. During his 32-game stretch of consecutive 30-point performances, Harden averaged 41.1 points, 7.6 rebounds and 7.4 assists. He has been, relatively speaking, only moderately exceptional during the win streak with averages of 34 points, 5.5 rebounds and 6.1 assists. Buoyed by a deep veteran cast, Harden sees a team far more potent than the one he was forced to carry through injury and attrition.
"We know our system, guys know their roles now," Harden said. "Defensively, as long as we can lock in for four quarters and hold opponents under what they average and offensively get our shots, we'll live with the results."
That Golden State has left the door ajar for the Rockets comes as a bit of a surprise. Their 13-2 run just prior to the All-Star Game break allowed the Warriors to grab the top spot in the West, but they are just 4-5 since with two blowout losses plus setbacks against three teams with sub-.500 records (Miami, Orlando, and Sunday against the lowly Phoenix Suns).
The Warriors have shown a tendency to disregard these hiccups and have been routinely blasé following losses to the Rockets. They've been afforded such hubris, for, in the postseason, the results reflect their unmitigated dominance. However, that doesn't mean the Warriors are completely immune to their erratic ways, especially with the Phoenix loss following a big victory over the Denver Nuggets, nestled between the Warriors and Rockets in the standings.
"Frustrated," Warriors coach Steve Kerr said describing his team. "Frustrated with our play, with ourselves, just our approach. So, we all feel it.
"I think the Denver game was a better indicator of what we're capable of, and then to so quickly get off track one game later, that's very frustrating and that's something we've got to correct. We've got to build some momentum; we've got to build better habits. We've got to stay connected emotionally, and it's the only way it can work."
--Field Level Media
Updated March 13, 2019