HOUSTON -- It won’t take long for the Houston Rockets to face their first true test of the Western Conference Finals. It will come in Game 1.
It’s at their place, the Toyota Center, where their 34-7 regular-season record was unsurpassed. They won 20 in a row, from Jan. 10 to April 5, at home this season.
With the Rockets’ energy and focus turned upon the Warriors for two full years, a loss would be deeply troubling. A lopsided loss would be disastrous. They’ve lost at home only twice this calendar year, by 10 to the Warriors on Jan. 4 and by six to the Thunder on April 7.
Even though the money is on the Warriors win the series, it’s Houston that will be favored in Game 1.
“Both teams are going to try to force their will,” Andre Iguodala said.
Can you imagine, then, the scene in the home locker room if the Warriors were to win by 20?
The last time Houston lost at home by at least 20 points was May 11, 2017. Facing elimination against the Spurs in the Western Conference Semifinals, the Rockets went out in Game 6 and laid an egg the size of Texas, the result being a 114-75 loss that sent the Rockets into the offseason.
Being routed Monday night would truly be an “Oh, crap” moment for the Rockets, tossing them into that dark place between panic and despair. They would be, in today’s vernacular, “shook.”
Don’t for a minute think the Warriors aren’t capable of pulling off a rout. Aside from a potential closeout, no game is more important to them than Game 1.
“It’s very important that we get off to a good start and that we’re locked in from the jump,” Draymond Green said. “When you’re going on the road against a very good team, you don’t want to let them come out and build on the confidence they already have.
“You want to come out and try to instill some doubt.”
In four Game 1s last postseason, the Warriors were 4-0, winning by an average of 12 points. In the series they most anticipate, facing the Cavaliers in The Finals, the Warriors won by 22, 113-91.
The Warriors were ruthless in closeout games last season, winning by 25 at Portland, by 26 at Utah and by 14 at San Antonio. Mike Brown could be proud of his work during Steve Kerr’s leave of absence.
In Game 4 at Cleveland, with a chance to sweep the Cavs -- and also become the first team in NBA history to post an undefeated postseason -- the Warriors downshifted and got worked in a 137-116 loss.
It’s much easier to downshift when you’ve won 15 consecutive postseason games and you know the 17th game will be in the comfort of your own building.
Facing the team logically considered the greatest threat to the Warriors repeating as champs, the Warriors will want to spend 48 minutes in overdrive. They don’t merely want to win Game 1. They want to drop the hammer.
“We’re playing our best basketball right now,” Stephen Curry said.
“We’re peaking at the right time, because our guys are really competitive and they know what’s at stake,” Kerr said. “They’re a lot more motivated now than they were a month ago.”
The pressure of Game 1 usually is on the visiting team. The common phrase is “we want to steal one,” so teams scratch and scramble in hopes of turning homecourt advantage in their favor. And the Warriors definitely want that.
But they come into this series with a very high level of confidence. They’ve seen enough video on the Rockets -- nearly a full hour before practice on Thursday and even more since then -- to memorize everything Houston has done to get here.
The Game 1 pressure is on the Rockets. They know it. The Warriors know it. And the Rockets know the Warriors know it.