The Rockets look the part of a championship team, but will they pull it off?
Through the first few nights of the 2019 NBA Playoffs, no team has looked better than the Houston Rockets.
The Rockets drew the fourth seed in the Western Conference, which was probably not where they really wanted to be, as that means they will have to face the Golden State Warriors in the second round.
But right now, they look just fine.
Houston absolutely thumped the Utah Jazz in the first two games of its first-round series, most recently beating them by a score of 118-98 in Game 2 on Wednesday night.
Barring a dramatic turn of events over the next week, the Rockets will likely be battling the Warriors in the playoffs once again, which will mark their fourth playoff meeting with Golden State since 2015.
Last year, Houston met the Dubs in the Western Conference Finals and actually pushed them to seven games before falling. At one point, the Rockets even had a 3-2 lead in the series, but Chris Paul missed Games 6 and 7 with a hamstring injury, and the Warriors ultimately prevailed.
The thing is, last year’s Houston club won 65 games and finished with the best record in the league. The Rockets were 12 games off of that pace this season, largely due to a very poor start.
So, is this Houston team even as good as last year’s? And even if the Rockets look the part of a championship squad through their first two playoff games, are they really a threat to knock off the Warriors?
For now, I am still going to say no.
Look: What James Harden has done this year is incredible, and he actually has my vote for MVP. But it just does not seem like Houston has enough overall talent to trump Golden State.
Now, obviously, DeMarcus Cousins’ injury threw a bit of a wrench into things for the Warriors. Yes, the Dubs won each of their last two titles without Cousins, but remember that this Golden State group is not as deep as previous years. Cousins’ injury will hurt, especially against a Rockets team with a mighty fine center in Clint Capela.
That being said, the foursome of Kevin Durant, Stephen Curry, Klay Thompson and Draymond Green still seems like too much for Houston to overcome, especially without the defensive versatility of Trevor Ariza, who played a major role in the Rockets’ success last spring.
This Houston club relies far too heavily on Harden to do nearly everything for it offensively, and while that may work against inferior teams like the Jazz, it isn’t going to fly against the Warriors.
What Golden State is currently showing in its own first-round series against the Los Angeles Clippers is that it can turn it on and off like a faucet, and when it really wants to, it can blow teams away.
Really, the Warriors have had this series on a string. Outside of a horrific final 20 minutes or so against the Clippers in Game 2 where Golden State blew a 31-point lead, the Dubs have been in control the whole way, cruising to an easy victory in Game 1 and winning Game 3 by 27. Heck, the fact that they were even up by 31 in Game 2 further illustrates this point.
We really shouldn’t make too much out of Golden State’s sloppy regular season, nor should we read anything into the fact that it surrendered that massive lead over the Clips on Monday night.
This is the Warriors we are talking about. The two-time defending champs. The team that has won three out of the last four titles. The team that won 73 games in 2016.
As impressive as the Rockets are, their style of play where their entire offense is predicated on what Harden does just does not seem like it will work against a seasoned, veteran team like the Warriors that understands its dynasty may be coming to an end.
You don’t think Golden State knows that Durant may be gone this summer, meaning the Dubs will suddenly become much more ordinary next season?
The Warriors are on a mission, and that’s a mission that the Rockets—and anyone else—will have a very hard time stopping.
I guess what I’m trying to say is, the Jazz are not the Warriors.
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