NBA

Houston Rockets the toughest challengers yet for Golden State Warriors as titans meet in Western Conference Finals

Jay Asser 17:55 13/05/2018
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James Harden has been the MVP frontrunner this season.

The Houston Rockets have been designed and built with one goal in mind: beat the Golden State Warriors.

Whether or not they can is another matter, but Houston represent the greatest challenger this iteration of the Warriors juggernaut has come across.

It’s as if Rockets general manager Daryl Morey went into a lab, crunched the numbers and came up with a blueprint best suited to pose a legitimate threat to the defending champions.

While no team can match Golden State’s star power, Houston have managed to close the gap by adding maestro Chris Paul to MVP frontrunner James Harden.

Beyond the backcourt duo, the Rockets are stocked with shooting and versatile, long defenders to make them a handful on both ends of the court.

They finished with the league’s best record this season at 65-17, but were somehow even better when all three of Harden, Paul and Clint Capela played, boasting a ridiculous mark of 50-5.

The Warriors got a taste of what Houston are capable of during the three regular-season meetings – two of which went the Rockets way, including the season-opening statement on the night Golden State received their championship rings.

Off the floor, Houston have been vocal in their desire to knock off the incumbents. Now, they get what they’ve been asking for.

“Obviously, we know what’s ahead of us,” Rockets forward Luc Mbah a Moute said. “That’s the champs. It’s going to be a tough task. You better be ready. But we have what we need. We’ve been that way all season. We’re ready. They have to be ready for us as well. I think we showed all season we match up well with them.”

A narrative has emerged that Houston are also the hungrier team, with Harden and Paul having yet to win a title while several of the Warriors’ key players have two to their name.

Paul, especially, is in search of a championship that has so far eluded him in his 13-year career. This series will mark the first time he’s ever played in the conference finals.

Harden, meanwhile, was next to Durant on the Oklahoma City Thunder the last time he reached the NBA Finals, and is eager to overcome his own playoff shortcomings.

Golden State coach Steve Kerr, however, dismissed that there’s more desire on the Rockets’ side and lauded his team’s winning experience.

“No, I like where we are,” Kerr said. “Our guys have rings. That’s a good position to be in. To me, the hardest championship is the first one, as an individual player and as a team, because you don’t know – you don’t quite know – if you can do it.

“Once you get the first one, there’s a little bit of house money. But you want it again because it’s an unbelievable feeling. I like our position. We’re going to go in here knowing we’re the defending champs, knowing we got a couple of championships here the last few years. Let’s go get another one.”

With the West fielding the two best teams this season, the match-up between the Warriors and Rockets could likely be the most important series of the playoffs.

On one side sits one of the most talented teams in league history, on the verge of being considered a dynasty. On the other, a challenger that has done everything possible to show they’re up to the task of taking the throne.

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