Latest posts by Don McCormack (see all)
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While the Cleveland Cavaliers — and 28 other teams in the NBA — are suffering from the same illness, the Houston Rockets are just fine, thank you.
The “illness,” of course, has been diagnosed as “Warrior paranoia.” As in, trying to figure out anecdotes to cure or at least temper different levels of self-doubt and a lack of confidence that flare up when facing Golden State.
The Rockets, though, have shown none of the above-mentioned symptoms and judging from their 116-108 hard-fought conquest of the defending champions Saturday night, they have just the amount of self-confidence necessary to perhaps interrupt another Bay Area victory parade come June.
“We’re confident, because we know if we’re doing what we’re supposed to do, we’re going to beat them,” Rockets big man Clint Capela told ESPN after scoring 18 points and setting a career-high with four steals. “We’ve got to keep playing. We know that they’re going to come back if we have the lead, and we’ve just got to keep that mindset. Sometimes, I feel like, in the past, we were all dragging down after mistakes. But today, we were ready.
“I think that if we’re doing what we’re supposed to do on defense — all the switches, the weak side — and keep playing our offense by keeping that mentality all game long, we have the weapons to beat them.”
Then, Capela doubled down.
“We are better than them.”
The victory by the Rockets over the Warriors was important “for our swag,” according to Houston’s James Harden.
The Rockets’ confidence is understandable. In games when Harden, Capela and Chris Paul all play together, Houston is a perfect 17-0. The Rockets are slated to have swingmen Trevor Ariza and Gerald Green, who both sat out the big win against Golden State, returning to face Miami on Monday night. They were serving two-game suspensions for their involvements in the fracas in Los Angeles against the Clippers last week at Staples Center.
“We’re confident,” Harden, who had 22 points and eight assists in his second game back from a strained hamstring, said, “We’re just a confident group, especially with everybody healthy. We get Trevor and Gerald back, and then we’ve got a strong rotation where we’re very versatile.
“Obviously, [the Warriors are] a championship-caliber team for the past four years or whatnot. That’s what we’re trying to build our way up to.”
Which is just what Capela has in mind.
“We’re definitely the best in the league with everybody healthy,” Capela told ESPN. “We’ve definitely got a chance to get that one seed back. The thing is, of course, we’re excited because it’s the Warriors, but Monday is an important game, too.
“If we lose and the [Warriors] win their game, what was the point? The next game, every single time, is going to be the key to go get the No. 1, first seed.”
“Mentally, now we have a chance to go after the No. 1 seed,” Houston sixth man Eric Gordon said. “Because if it’s a tie at the end of the year, we have that edge. That’s why we all thought it was very important to win. Now that we’re healthy, I think that we’re going to get back to a big winning streak and get back to doing what we need to do, like we did earlier in the year.”
Paul, though, who had 33 points, 11 rebounds and seven dimes in the win, took the big-picture view, not pondering a potential playoff matchup against Golden State.
“That’s a long time from now,” he said. “I’m trying to worry about Miami on Monday.”
Golden State (37-10) still holds a 3.5-game lead on Houston (32-12) for the best record in the Western Conference and the league overall.
“That’s what we’re rooting for,” Harden said. “It’s not going to be easy. Every single game, we’re going to have to take it for ourselves and not relax. It’s not about who we’re playing. It’s about us and each and every game getting better.”
Rockets coach Mike D’Antoni also pumped the brakes on putting too much emphasis on one victory, albeit an impressive one, against the Warriors.
“You watch us play and we’ve got a lot of stuff out there, but they’re still the champions,” he said. “I was telling [the players] during a timeout, ‘You’ve got to knock ’em out. It’s like a heavyweight fight. You don’t win on TKOs. You’ve got to knock ’em out.’
“Tonight, we did, but that’s tonight. They’re missing [Andre] Iguodala, and they’ll be a different team when playoff time comes, but we have to be a different. At least we know that it’s within our locker room, a lot of this stuff that we can do.
“We’ve proven that we have something there. Now it’s up to us to do something.”
As per their nature, the Warriors didn’t put much stock into the result Saturday night.
“It’s game forty what? Seven, eight?,” Draymond Green, who had 21 points, seven rebounds, six assists and two steals, said. “Who we play on Tuesday? We just got to get ready for [New York]. Home court will take care of itself down the road.”
Kevin Durant, who led the Warriors with 26 points and added seven rebounds and five assists, was even more to the point when asked if Saturday’s game mattered.
“No,” he said. “The season starts over when you’re in the playoffs, anyway, so it doesn’t matter. You’re going to have to get through these teams to get to where you want to go.
“You have to play at home and on the road, so it really doesn’t matter. We just want to be playing good basketball when it comes down to that point.”