The Houston Rockets are in the driver's seat right now. Entering play on Thursday, they have a one-game lead over the Warriors for the No. 1 seed in the Western Conference and hold the head-to-head tiebreaker.
Winners of 17 straight games, the Rockets believe this is their year to detrone the defending champs.
But fomer Cavaliers GM David Griffin, while he he believes the Rockets are a really good team, thinks the Warriors still hold one distinct advantage.
"The fact that [the Rockets] are able to keep PJ Tucker and Luc Mbah a Moute on the court as much as they do and still score is a big thing heading into the playoffs. If they can score in the playoffs like that and keep those guys together, they can go as far as they really want to. They key will be, James [Harden] and Chris [Paul] have not been terribly good in the playoffs versus the regular season. And the game is officiated so differently then. They get to the free throw line just a ridiculous amount of time right now. And I just don't think that will be the case in the playoffs," Griffin said on KNBR 680 on Thursday. "And at that point, I think it becomes much harder for them to keep their defensive pieces on the court. And I think that's where Golden State ends up with the really big advantage because I think their best lineups don't have any problem scoring and they can be stiffling defensively. What you've seen from Golden State the last 10 games, it's a blessing for Steve [Kerr] and the team that Houston's on the run they are because they are sort of laying in the weeds right now. But their defensive rating is second in the last 10 games, that's what you want to see at this time of the year from Golden State."
Coming off a third straight trip to the NBA Finals, the Warriors at times look like they aren't firing on all cylinders. Before the All-Star break in February, Kerr admitted the team was gassed and was looking forward to the time off. But in the six games since the break, the Warriors have turned up the defensive intensity. Griffin expressed belief that the Warriors will be able to flip the switch come playoff time and smother opponents.
"And that's where they have the huge advantage over Houston, because they have the level of trust that comes from winning a championship together. They know when they decide to flip the switch, they know what they can expect from each other. Houston really doesn't know that yet come playoff time. That's a really, really big deal. I think it goes a really long way to dictating outcome of playoff series," Griffin said. "There's going to be that moment where you really need to fall back on each other and believe in one another and Golden State is going to do that. So when they flip the switch, which really be about being focused enough to not have some of the most ridiculous turnovers in the NBA, I think you'll see them be really, really good because they know already what they're made of and what they're all about."