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What we can (and cannot) take from the Warriors-Rockets regular season series

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The Rockets won the regular season series against the Warriors 2-1. But there are a few reasons to doubt the value of those results.

Houston Rockets v Golden State Warriors Photo by Ezra Shaw/Getty Images

The Houston Rockets’ “Big 3” of Chris Paul, James Harden, and Clint Capela have gone 50-5 when they were all in the lineup. The Rockets won the season series against the Golden State Warriors, 2-1. They are the number one seed, and have home-court advantage throughout the playoffs.

Does this mean they are better than the reigning, defending champs? I’ll ask Tyson Chandler 2.0, Clint Capela.

“We are better than them.”

- Clint Capela

Wow. That’s one vote for Houston, I guess?

Let’s use some perspective, people.

How do we measure the Rockets’ regular season success vs the champs?

Caution is advised when looking at regular season sample sizes when dynasties are involved. It’s well documented that the Warriors kinda mailed in an admittedly disinterested regular season performance. But don’t take my word for it, let’s flashback to Warriors beat reporter Dieter Kurtenbach’s confession for the Mercury News back in January.

I’ve covered this team for the last four years — I’ve seen nearly every game they’ve played during that stretch with too many of those viewings coming in person to count. From my vantage point, this team has clearly checked out from this regular season.

They’ve leveled up — the regular season simply doesn’t matter to them.

Draymond Green echoed that in April on the eve of the playoffs when he remarked, “Talking 82 games, we get bored with that after awhile. And that’s no excuse, just, I’m always give it to y’all real, and that’s about as real as I can be.”

When the defensive captain and heart of the team is confessing that the team is bored by the slog of the season, we should probably take note (now that the Jazz are eliminated, I think we can use that phrase). Once the playoffs started, the Warriors have gotten healthy and motivated, cruising to two series wins while losing a combined two games.

Also, the Hamptons 5 have finally been unleashed. They were not in the lineup for a single matchup between the two teams this season.

I say all that to say...the Rockets are 2-1 against the sleepwalking, regular season Dubs. For everyone afraid of Houston’s “hunger” compared to the Dubs “flip the switch” approach, I cede the floor to 7-time NBA champion, head coach Steve Kerr.

The Warriors have the antidote to the Rockets offense

Zaza Pachulia averaged 13 minutes per game against Houston in the regular season. He hasn’t played 13 TOTAL minutes during this postseason. In the playoffs, every second of playing time is magnified, which is why coaches shorten their benches. With the Warriors’ switching strategy on defensive, they need guys who can rotate quickly and cleanly to pick up opposing players.

Pachulia is slow and unathletic: he would be taken advantage of by quick ball-handlers at the rim, or be too slow to get out on deadly shooters. JaVale McGee was a solid factor against the plodding LaMarcus Aldridge in the dominating victories over San Antonio, but was unable to match the activity and physicality of Anthony Davis versus New Orleans. In Game 3, his lone start of the Pelicans series, McGee was constantly out of position defensively, and Davis had his best game (33 points, 18 rebounds, and 5 blocks).

Capela presents a similar dilemma as Davis in terms of the athletic lob threat and an excellent down-hill weapon in the pick-and-roll that Harden and Paul spam constantly. Additionally, the Rockets love to initiate switches with their pick plays to force the center to guard Harden or Paul. Paul exploited Rudy Gobert, a defensive player of the year candidate, with this move about a billion times and dropped 41 in a closeout Game 5.

Clearly, the Warriors need a player with the strength to bang with Capela, the quick feet to stick with either Paul or Harden’s dribble dances, and the intelligence to not give up cheap fouls. Of course, Green will pick up that responsibility when the Hampton 5 is out there, but he can’t play 48 minutes. It would appear Kevon Looney would be the guy they have groomed this season to take over those responsibilities. Also, Jordan Bell is an intruiging option here.

At the end of the day they will probably target Curry in pick-and-rolls anyway. He’s used to that, and he’ll figure it out.

Hunger Games

Still, some may believe the reason for the Rockets overthrowing the Warriors is still “Guys...Houston is really hungry...they just want it more!”, despite what coach Kerr said earlier in that clip. Does that mean the Warriors have already eaten from the tree of championships, and are full, perhaps even complacent?

I again want to remind you of history.

Are Chris Paul and James Harden hungrier than say...

  • Karl Malone and John Stockton?
  • Gary Payton and Shawn Kemp?
  • Patrick Ewing ?
  • Reggie Miller?
  • Charles Barkley?

All those men yearned for glory. Yet, all those hall-of-famers were forced to come to the damning realization that there was a roadblock of historical greatness that superceded all of their basketball dreams. In their time, that greedy, championship hording dynasty was Michael Jordan’s Bulls.

In this era, we shall behold whether or not the Golden State Warriors are that present day rapacious black hole. Do they have the insatiable, unrelenting, postseason appetite to swallow whole the desperate hearts of great men?

I believe they do. Do you?