With the All-Star break in the rearview, the unofficial second half of the NBA season starts this week. And there’s a slight surprise atop the Western Conference standings.
The Golden State Warriors, the team that lost one total playoff game a year ago and the Goliaths to the rest of the NBA’s David, do not sit at the top of the West. The First Seed belongs to the Houston Rockets.
With the addition of Chris Paul this summer, the Rockets were tabbed as the Warriors biggest threat in the West but it’s still shocking to see them above the defending NBA champions in the standings. It was assumed that the Warriors would still be the un-blinking favorite to hoist the Larry O’Brien trophy in June. And maybe they still are. But the Rockets have the better record and won the season series against Golden State. Are they better equipped to take down Golden State than we originally thought?
The duo of Chris Paul and James Harden have surpassed all expectations. James Harden is going to win MVP and Chris Paul has only lost three games all season when he’s been on the floor. They complement each other perfectly and head coach Mike D’Antoni has the luxury of rotating one on the floor at all times to run with the bench.
And the supporting cast is where Houston really shines. The Rockets are filled with shooters top to bottom. It’s why they’re going to be the first team in NBA history to take more three-point shots than two-pointers. Clint Capela is the perfect fit in the pick and roll with Paul and is leading the league in field goal percentage. Trevor Ariza can help guard Kevin Durant and Chris Paul can help contain Steph Curry. But even then, Golden State still has weapons.
The Warriors most glaring weakness is their bench and I use the term “weakness” loosely because the Warriors are just fine. Andre Igoudala is averaging career lows in both points per game and field goal percentage. Igoudala plays heavy minutes for the Warriors and the combination of his on-ball defense and ball-handling ability is a chief reason why the Warrior’s “death lineup” was so feared. Luckily for Golden State, newcomers like Nick Young and Jordan Bell have helped fill in the gaps to give the Warriors a bench that once again ranks within the top 10 benches in point differential.
The truth behind the Warriors lackadaisical approach to this season is that they’re bored. They’ve played until June the last three seasons and know they have two of the best offensive talents this game has ever seen to lean on when things get tough. Head coach Steve Kerr resorted to having his players coach themselves during a game against Phoenix just to keep players engaged. Since December 30, the Warriors are 23rd in the league in defensive rating. That’s a sign of a team that’s coasting right now in the doldrums of the season.
The Warriors are Larry Bird playing solely left-handed against the Trailblazers. They are Kanye West making 808’s & Heartbreak. They are me spotting my little cousins 10 points in the driveway before I swat their shots into the next Zip-Code like Dikembe.
So, can Houston beat Golden State?
Maybe if every Warrior forgets to set their alarms and sleeps through the start of the game. And they get into a car-accident on the way to the arena. And Durant and Curry both sever their spines.
Really, the only way Golden State is knocked out of the playoffs before the finals is if they let themselves. They can afford to glide through the regular season. A sleepy showing in the playoffs might open the door just enough for Houston to pull off the upset. Because a fully engaged Warrior team is still the team to beat.
Bryan Lambert is a staff writer for The Daily Campus. He can be reached via email at firstname.lastname@example.org.