Cracked Window: Houston’s Persistence May Just Pay Off

By Salman Ali on March 25, 2018.

Embed from Getty Images

It goes without saying that winning an NBA Championship is incredibly difficult. It takes an incredible combination of talent, shrewd management, coaching, good health, and some luck to pull it off in a normal year. However, in this era, the era of Golden State, it takes even more.

You need it all plus more to beat an all-time juggernaut like the Warriors.

More talent is demanded, shrewd management may not be enough, good coaching can only take you so far, perfect health is required, and luck needs to come in droves. The luck of getting shots to fall, having their shots miss, the right suspension at the right time, and unfortunately, injuries tend to play a huge role in this. Cleveland showed us in 2016 that it’s possible to beat a team like this, but it takes a near-perfect confluence of events to pull it off.

In times like this, many teams fold up and look to build towards the future (like the third of the league that’s currently tanking). Some teams decide to take on goliath and miss like Oklahoma City (assuming their regular season is indicative of their playoffs). A lot of teams just want to finally make it to the playoffs and are okay with the status quo for now (like Minnesota or Philadelphia).

And then there are teams like Houston who put all of their chips on the table this summer by acquiring Chris Paul plus defensive personnel and are seeing the dividends this season.

General Manager Daryl Morey was interviewed right after the Warriors won it all last year and was asked how his Rockets planned to compete in this era and was quite frank. Morey claimed Golden State “was not unbeatable” and that “there have been bigger upsets in sports history.”

"We are used to long odds," Morey added. "If Golden State makes the odds longer, we might up our risk profile and get even more aggressive. We have something up our sleeve."

Morey clearly didn’t want to concede the next 4 years and the duration of Harden’s prime by backing out and merely being a scrappy playoff team. He put Houston in prime position to compete with a healthy Golden State team and it’s paid off (thus far). The Rockets have just achieved their highest regular season win total in franchise history, claimed the tiebreaker for the 1st seed over the Warriors by beating them twice this season, and will likely run away with home court advantage throughout the playoffs.

This Houston team is historically good offensively, formidable defensively (7th in the league), and perhaps most importantly, as hungry as they’ll ever be.

Aside from Daryl Morey talking about how much they think of the Warriors, whenever reporters bring up season milestones to the players (ex: playoffs clinched, homecourt advantage clinched, etc..), they frequently bring up the fact that they have “bigger goals” than whatever regular season accomplishment you’re bringing up.

Here’s a clip of James Harden shrugging off the fact that the Rockets had just won their 59th game (most in franchise history):
It’s been like this all season for the Rockets. They achieve something noteworthy and shrug it off because to them, all of this is meaningless without a championship to cap it off.

When you stack up any of Houston’s catch-all metrics with the Warriors (Net RTG, SRS, point differential, etc…), they’re as close as any team has been in the past 4 years. The possibility of Houston actually competing with a healthy Warriors squad is not farfetched anymore. It’s a reality.

And if there’s a year where the window may be more open than most years, it’s this year.

It looks as if the past 3 years of reaching the NBA Finals is starting to take its’ toll on the Warriors. Whether it be because of health, boredom, or exhaustion, the Warriors haven’t been as sharp as they’ve been in prior years and it shows.

Golden State has still been unbelievable this year, but this will be the 1st year since 2014-15 they don’t win 67 games or obtain the 1st seed. This will also be the 1st year they don’t achieve a top 5 defense as they’ve fallen off significantly on that end (2.4 points per 100 possessions worse than last year, 5.3 points per possessions worse than 2014-15). Dependable vets like Andre Iguodala have gotten older, slower, and generally less reliable.

And perhaps most importantly, they’ve fallen victim to the injury bug this season. Kevin Durant, Stephen Curry, and Draymond Green are all on pace to miss at least 15 games with some sort of ailment. In fact, it’s no secret by now that Curry has been diagnosed with a Grade 2 MCL sprain and will miss at least 3 weeks, possibly more. The injury could extend into the 1st or 2nd round of the playoffs and if it doesn’t, we may see a diminished version of the two-time MVP return to the floor in the likely Warriors/Rockets Western Conference Finals.

Curry is the engine that drives the Warriors. He’s not just a part of their identity, he is their identity. They may still have 3 All-NBA talents, but Curry is the reason they reach the heights they do on the offensive end. The spacing and fear he puts into the hearts of defenses with his threat of off-the-dribble shooting is the single biggest reason Golden State is so hard to defend.

Whether or not Curry is back and the same player come Conference Finals time is tough to judge, but it’s clear that what once seemed like an inevitability in the Warriors winning it all without much resistance is now very much in question. This is the first time in 4 years Golden State has looked vulnerable outside of their 3-1 series collapse to the Cleveland Cavaliers in 2016.

The Rockets are scary good, they’re motivated, they’ll have homecourt advantage in a potential matchup with Golden State, and injury luck may be swinging in their favor just a tad bit.

Whether or not any of this matters is anyone’s guess. Golden State still deserves to be the overwhelming favorite, but one thing’s for sure - Daryl Morey was wise for going all in and not conceding this summer.

No comments:

Post a Comment