As the Warriors entered the season trying to win their second straight NBA title, Golden State coach Steve Kerr said, “The biggest challenge is complacency.”
How about the Rockets?
The Warriors certainly looked apathetic throughout the regular season. They played lax defense, showed an abundance of caution with injuries and meandered to a 58-24 record that nobody believes reflects their true ability. Complacency certainly is a challenge.
But so is Houston.
The Rockets are good. Really good. They went 65-17, scored like gangbusters and defended effectively. James Harden will win MVP, and Chris Paul is an elite secondary star. Led by Clint Capela, Houston’s rotation is full of solid role players.
Golden State, without being complacent, could lose to the Rockets.
Houston has the fifth-best record of any playoff-series opponent faced by a defending champion. Here are defending champion’s top postseason foes, series the defending champ won in blue and series the defending champ lost in red:
Kerr was reasonable before the season to call “complacency” the Warriors’ biggest challenge.
They’re so talented – Kevin Durant, Stephen Curry, Draymond Green and Klay Thompson! – so cohesive and so versatile (reasons Golden State will probably beat the Rockets). For teams anywhere near this successful – two championships in the last three years with a 73-win season and NBA Finals appearance sandwiched between – the main threats are often internal.
Challengers as good as Houston rarely emerge.
But the Rockets are here, and they’re a genuine obstacle to the Warriors repeating as champions.