Rockets still fatally flawed despite regular-season dominance of Warriors
The Houston Rockets defeated the Golden State Warriors again on Saturday (without James Harden, at that), marking their third win in three tries against the Warriors this season. Weird, considering the Rockets had posted back-to-back losses to the Minnesota Timberwolves and Los Angeles Lakers before defeating Golden State this past weekend, but hey; so goes basketball.
But does Houston’s regular-season dominance over the Dubs actually mean anything?
You can spin this however you want, saying that the Rockets have the Warriors’ number and that the Dubs simply have a lot of trouble dealing with Mike D’Antoni’s system or whatever. The fact of the matter is, it is going to take a miracle for Houston to beat Golden State in the playoffs.
Yes, I understand the Rockets pushed the Warriors to seven games last year. Yes, I understand they held a 3-2 lead in that series before Chris Paul went down.
But that was last year. This is now.
First and foremost, Houston is not nearly as good this season as it was a year ago. Last season, the Rockets won 65 games. This season, they already have eight more losses than they had all of last year, and February isn’t even over yet.
Second, we still don’t know if the Rockets would have beaten the Warriors last spring even if Paul didn’t get hurt, and remember: Andre Iguodala was also injured for the Dubs.
It’s just hard to see Houston’s current style translating into postseason success.
The Rockets’ entire offense is built around giving the ball to Harden, letting him dribble out most of the shot clock and either fire up a three, draw a foul at the rim or kick the ball out.
There is no consistent ball movement. There is no real second option. There is no fluid system.
It’s just Harden on an island, waiting to see what is the best decision for him to make.
The Warriors, on the other hand, move the ball better than any team we have seen since the 2014 San Antonio Spurs. They are a well-oiled machine that knows exactly how to win come playoff time.
Golden State doesn’t just rely on one scorer. It has three of them, not to mention a do-it-all Swiss army knife in Draymond Green and some experienced bench weapons in Iguodala and Shaun Livingston.
Point to the Rockets beating the Warriors three times this season all you want, but the Chicago Bulls also swept the Miami Heat 4-0 during the 2010-11 campaign. What happened in the playoffs? The Heat beat them in five. The Brooklyn Nets then defeated the Heat four times in 2013-14. What ended occurring? Miami took down Brooklyn in five in the postseason.
Sure. There are instances where regular-season record matters because of history, but what history do the Rockets have of beating the Warriors? Golden State has beaten them three times in the playoffs since 2015, and the first two times, the series weren’t even close.
If Houston had a track record of actually beating the Dubs when it counts, I would be more inclined to put some stock in its dominance over them this season, but it doesn’t, so I don’t.
The Rockets’ only hope against the Warriors is to get red-hot from three-point range four times out of seven games, and even then, they would need the sharpshooting Dubs to go cold.
While it’s completely understandable what general manager Daryl Morey is trying to do, playing the analytics game and building his team to just bomb away from three, that style does not necessarily work in the playoffs, especially not against disciplined teams like Golden State.
Plain and simply, Harden can’t do it all alone. He needs another star scorer next to him to take some of the load off of his shoulders, as he is going to have to go Super Saiyan against the Warriors just for the Rockets to have a sliver of a chance.
Morey’s blueprint would be a fine one if he were merely able to pair a legitimate second option alongside of Harden. As great as Paul is, he is not a No. 2 option as a scorer, and due to his injury history, it is very hard to rely on him anyway.
The Rockets’ style may be entertaining. It may set records. It may result in incredibly weird winning streaks during the regular season.
But the postseason is a different animal.
The postseason is a playground that the Warriors’ have dominated since 2015, and they don’t appear to be losing their grip. That might change next year if Kevin Durant departs, but right now, the Dubs are still the kings of the NBA.
No matter what the Rockets do during the regular season, it doesn’t matter. This team is not beating the Warriors this spring.
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