Warriors

Daryl Morey admits Rockets make most decisions with Warriors in mind

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AP

Daryl Morey admits Rockets make most decisions with Warriors in mind

Grass is green, the sky is blue, and Rockets general manager Daryl Morey is still obsessed with knocking off the Warriors.

Morey admitted as much in an interview with the Houston Chronicle, telling the paper that "a very high percentage" of the Rockets' decisions this offseason are made with one thing on their mind:

Same as last year, it's very likely to win the title we're going to have to beat the Warriors at some point. We're doing what we can to prepare for them. To me, that's what any rational person would do. I'm intrigued by some thinking it's odd that we say that. Maybe because it's not a norm. Ask any fan, 'Who do you have to beat to win the title?' They're going to say 'the Warriors.' It seems like [general manager] speak or coachspeak to not say that.

Morey told anybody who would ask last season that the Rockets were single-mindedly obsessed with beating the Warriors in the playoffs. Houston came close last season, jumping out to a 3-2 lead in the Western Conference finals, before Golden State stormed back to win the final two games in Rockets star Chris Paul's injury absence.

Morey responded with a substantial makeover of his roster. Defensive stoppers Luc Mbah a Moute and Trevor Ariza are gone, while Carmelo Anthony, Michael Carter-Williams, Marquese Chriss, James Ennis and Brandon Knight are in. The Rockets were one of the West's best defensive teams last season, and Morey expects the team to withstand the loss of Ariza and Mbah a Moute.

"We can be [as strong defensively]," Morey told the Chronicle. "They were both extremely good defenders. So it will be a challenge. That was a big part of our meeting. [Assistant coach Roy Rogers] was walking through what changes and how excited he was with what he was planning to do and the personnel we have to be better than last year."

Morey -- as well as the Warriors -- will get a first look at whether or not Houston's offseason was successful on Nov. 17, when the Rockets host the defending NBA champions.  

Can Rockets replicate success Warriors had with Steph Curry, Kevin Durant?

Can Rockets replicate success Warriors had with Steph Curry, Kevin Durant?

When Kevin Durant first joined the Warriors in 2016, skeptics wondered if Golden State could make it work.

Would Durant and Steph Curry be able to co-exist? Would there be enough shots for Durant, Curry and Klay Thompson? Would everyone remain happy with their role and numbers?

Those questions were answered pretty quickly. It took a few months, but Durant, Curry and the Warriors gelled midway through their first season together. They went on to claim the 2016-17 NBA title and ran it back the next season en route to a sweep in the 2017-18 NBA Finals.

Everyone seemed happy. Everyone got their shots. The third season wasn't as smooth, but it still almost ended with a third consecutive title.

After losing the 2019 NBA Finals to the Toronto Raptors, Durant decided it was time to move on and signed with the Brooklyn Nets.

But looking back, the experiment was a success. Durant and Curry co-existed, forming one of the most dominant duos in NBA history. Thompson didn't "sacrifice" as much as people thought he would, and ended up signing a max contract with the Warriors this offseason.

Now, a new duo — James Harden and Russell Westbrook — has critics wondering if the players can co-exist.

Both are MVPs and two of the most ball-dominant players in the NBA. So, will the Houston Rockets' experiment work? Harden believes it will.

“When you have talent like that, it works itself out" Harden told The Houston Chronicle's Jonathan Feigen. "You communicate. You go out there and compete possession by possession. You figure things out. Throughout the course of the season, you figure things out. That’s just what it is. When you have talent, you have guys with IQ, you have guys willing to sacrifice, it always works itself out.”

Harden used a key word there. Sacrifice.

The players on the Warriors were willing to sacrifice for the greater good.

Are Harden and Westbrook capable of making the same sacrifice? Harden is confident their longstanding friendship will help matters.

“It works,” Harden told Feigen. “It’s that trust factor. I trust him; he trusts me. And with the group that we already have and the things we already accomplished, it should be an easy transition for him to be incorporated right in and things are going to go.”

While Harden and Westbrook went to the NBA Finals in 2012 as members of the Oklahoma City Thunder, neither has returned since. Both have reached the conference finals in recent years but have gone no further.

Other Western Conference teams have loaded up, but Houston is bringing back a team that is mostly intact from last season and swapped Westbrook for an aging and injury-prone Chris Paul.

So maybe this is finally Houston's year.

[RELATED: Warriors could be 'terrifying' in 2019]

“That’s my boy right there, since I was like 10 or 11 years old,” Harden said of Westbrook. “Obviously, we were teammates for [three] years. Now, we’re at different stages of our careers. I’m excited for the opportunity. I hear a lot of negative things: you can’t, he can’t, they can’t. But we’ll figure it out. I’m excited for the opportunity. I know the rest of the organization is. It’s time.”

The Warriors were able to turn the Curry-Durant partnership into two NBA titles. How many titles, if any, the Rockets can grab with Harden and Westbrook is to be determined. But they certainly have the talent to bring the Larry O'Brien Trophy back to H-Town.

Why this ESPN analyst thinks Warriors could be 'terrifying' next year

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USATSI

Why this ESPN analyst thinks Warriors could be 'terrifying' next year

The Warriors will enter the 2019-20 NBA season in unfamiliar territory.

For one, they won't enter the season as title favorites for the first time since lifting the Larry O'Brien Trophy in 2015 after significant roster turnover headlined by Kevin Durant's departure in free agency. For another, they will begin the campaign without star guard Klay Thompson in the opening-night lineup for the first time since 2010 as he recovers from a torn ACL. 

But that isn't enough to write off Golden State as an NBA title contender, according to ESPN's Kirk Goldsberry. 

"I'm not a betting man, but if I were, I'd be all over this bet," Goldsberry wrote in a Friday column, referring to the Warriors opening the season as +1,400 championship favorites according to Caesar's Palace. "Why? Call me crazy, but if Klay Thompson returns to action by March or April, and the Warriors are in the playoffs, they're terrifying."

Placing them in his third tier of championship contenders, Goldsberry noted that the Warriors' experience could give them an edge over other title contenders. He also proposed that sign-and-trade acquisition D'Angelo Russell could "take another leap" under head coach Steve Kerr. Russell, who was an All-Star last season, doesn't have the same defensive upside as Thompson, but gives Golden State another credible scoring threat while one half of the Splash Brothers sits on the sidelines. 

[RELATED: Why Mychal Thompson has MVP expectations for Steph]

That defensive drop-off is what concerns Goldsberry the most, especially with Thompson set to miss so much of the season while Durant and Andre Iguodala no longer are playing in the Bay. The Warriors finished outside of the top 10 in defensive rating in each of the last two seasons despite the presence of all three players on the roster. As NBC Sports Bay Area's Grant Liffmann observed earlier this week, those absences leave the Warriors with a lot of question marks on the defensive end of the court. 

The best-case scenarios for the Warriors next season involve a lot of "ifs." If Russell can effectively fill in for Thompson and if Thompson can return healthy and if the Warriors figure out their defense, then Golden State could be a force in the postseason. The Warriors will have 82 games to figure it all out, but they are still a team few would want to face if and when they do.