The road to the NBA championship, part 5: They ain't that good, man.
The road to a championship is never easy, especially in the wild West, where any team can turn postseason dreams into a nightmare. Here we look at a team playing well despite a lot of injuries to key personnel, the Houston Rockets.
Sometimes, a season just seems snake bitten. Even with a team having a relatively healthy season, bad timing for an injury can cost a team a playoff series or even their playoff spot. We remember all too well when the Warriors limped through a six game series against the Spurs two years ago, or lost Andrew Bogut to a cracked rib, rendering him unable to play against the Clippers last postseason.
For now, head coach Steve Kerr seems to have found a pretty good balance of minutes and days off, which, coupled with relatively good fortune, has our beloved Warriors looking about as healthy at this time of year as they ever have (knocking furiously on wood). For a few other teams in the playoff picture, however, this just isn't the case.
Making no mistakes is what establishes the certainty of victory, for it means conquering an enemy that is already defeated. -Sun Tzu, The Art of War
Even though the NBA Cares, no one gets parades for being compassionate with their opponents, so let's take a look at the way the Rockets have played against the Warriors and what it will take to shatter the hopes and dreams of the Houston faithful.
If there's one team in the Association that wants to knock off the Dubs, it's the Rockets. The Warriors are 4-0 against the Rockets this season, much to the dismay of Kevin McHale's squad. Funny thing though, last season the Rockets went 4-0 against the Spurs. The past doesn't define the future, but it should still be examined nonetheless. Let's take a look at the four games the Warriors have played against the Rockets this year, and see if we can figure out how to repeat that success if we face off in the postseason.
Stephen Curry shot the lights out, scoring 34 points on .855 TS%, while Andrew Bogut grabbed 18 boards. James Harden struggled to the tune of a .413 TS% (1-11 on three pointers) while only managing six free throw attempts.
The Warriors outshot the Rockets with an eFG% of .500 while holding the Rockets to just .407, and outrebounded the home team 54-46. The Rockets forced 26(!) turnovers, but committed 22 of their own, negating much of that advantage. The 21-17 advantage the Rockets held in free throw attempts wasn't enough, and the Warriors emerged victorious 98-87.
"I think the Golden State training staff hasn't been talked about enough this season. That team has been healthy and really that showcased everyone in Golden State... We do feel like we can beat anybody in a seven game series, and we're pretty excited to get going with the playoffs." -Daryl Morey
About one month later on December 10th, the two teams had a rematch, this time in Oakland. Howard, Jones, and Lee would all miss this contest too, but this time they were joined in their Armani suits by Bogut. The Warriors were riding a 13 game winning streak, and the sellout crowd of 19,596 screaming Warriors fans was pumped for the game.
Harden came to play this time, putting up 34 points on .591 TS%, but his teammates struggled to score against the stifling Warriors defense. Harrison Barnes played one of the best games of his career, putting up 20 points on a ridiculous .969 TS%, along with 6 rebounds and 2 steals.
The turnovers were a push, with both teams coughing up the rock 15 times, and the rebounding was about even, with the Rockets edging the Warriors 44-43. The Warriors held a 20-15 free throw attempt advantage, but the real difference was in eFG%, where the Warriors outshot the visitors .543-.461.
The Rockets were frustrated. Before the third matchup of the season, James Harden famously told his teammates before the game, "They beat us twice already. They ain't that good, man."
The Warriors are that good, man, and they showed it. On January 17th, Steve Kerr's team handed the Rockets their worst home defeat of the season, demolishing them by 25 points in their own house. The Warriors beat the Rockets in every quarter, but really blew the game open with a 38-21 third quarter. Dwight played, and so did the recently acquired Josh Smith and Corey Brewer. It didn't help, as the Splash Brothers posted 27 points a piece, and put up a combined ORtg of 139.5 against the long defense of the Rockets.
Klay was magnificent on defense too, picking up 5 blocks in the game. If you remember how fun this game was as a Warriors fan, you'll want to watch the highlight video from gumbywithpokey.
Besides the slight edge the Rockets held in free throw attempts (34-33), the Warriors controlled the possession battle, leading in turnovers (14-17) and rebounds (49-39), and dominating eFG% .599-.460. The relatively healthy Rockets (only Jones missed the game) were defeated soundly on their own floor.
Four days later, the Rockets came into Oakland with revenge on their minds. This time, it was Jason Terry giving the Warriors some bulletin board material, "I love to go on the road and stick it to them."
Once again, Houston came in with a relatively full roster (sans Jones), and once again they left with a loss. This time, the game was decided by halftime, when the Warriors held a 62-42 advantage.
The Rockets drew whistles seemingly at will, attempting 31 free throws compared to the Warriors 18, and they managed to match the Dubs with 46 rebounds apiece. However, the Warriors had a 16-19 turnover advantage, and once again outshot the Rockets .566 - .500 (eFG%).
The season sweep was complete.
With Beverly out for the season, the Rockets will probably start Terry and Harden in the backcourt, along with Trevor Ariza and Howard in the frontcourt. They've started Smith, Motiejunas, and Jones at the other big man spot this season, though I imagine Jones will get the nod if all three players are healthy. Other players who you can expect to see minutes from include Pablo Prigioni, Joey Dorsey, and Corey Brewer, along with rookies Nick Johnson, and Kostas Papanikolaou. For whatever reason, Kevin Mchale hasn't found room in the rotation for rookie K.J. McDaniels, who the Rockets traded for in February.
On the season, the Rockets rate 12th in ORtg, and 6th in DRtg. They lead the league in three point attempts (33.1) and makes (11.4), despite a middling 14th rank in percentage (.346). Not surprisingly, they're fifth in the league in free throw attempts (24.9), but only hit .722 of them (27th in the league). Houston is squarely in the middle of the league in rebounding, ranked 15th and pulling down 43.6 per game. They're seventh in eFG% (.509), but 29th in total turnovers with 16.8 per game. Their inefficiency scoring and controlling the ball is largely why they're only seventh in points despite playing at the third fastest pace. They're 7th in margin of victory, with a 3.22 point differential.
Against the Warriors, things haven't been as pretty. The Warriors have blown them out by an average of 15.2 points, outrebounded them 48 - 43.8, and outblocked them 8.3 - 1.8. The Warriors also lead in assists (25.3 - 18.3), steals (11 - 10.5), turnovers (17.8 - 18.3). Really, the only category that the Rockets lead is free throw attempts (25.3 - 22.0). The Rockets also take 7.5 more threes per game, though both teams make 9.8 of them.
If the regular season is any indicator, the Warriors should dominate the Rockets in a seven game series. I can't see the addition of Terrence Jones making the Rockets 15 points better, but Houston's offense revolves around drawing whistles, and referees are always unpredictable (except Tony Brothers). If Houston can rectify their woes on the glass and draw enough fouls, we could be in a dogfight. Otherwise, look for the Dubs to beat the Rockets in 5 games or less.