OAKLAND – Though the Warriors need another win to get out of the first round and officially reach the Western Conference semifinals, they are not afraid to peek beyond the Los Angeles Clippers.
Arrogant? Not really. Looking beyond is, in this instance, not the same as looking past.
The Warriors have plenty of motivation to oust the Clippers on Wednesday in Game 5 of their first-round NBA playoff series at Oracle Arena. But it’s directly linked to their desire to maximize their mental and physical preparation for the team widely believed to be their biggest threat.
Yeah, those guys.
The Houston Rockets.
Each team’s current series is a dress rehearsal for the next, and there’s no point in pretending otherwise. Both the Warriors and Rockets have 3-1 leads with Game 5 coming at home. Each player, Warriors or Rockets, knows the current matchups, as well as the possibilities as they advance. Houston and the champions are on a collision course.
“We watch every game and understand what’s going on,” Stephen Curry said in advance of Game 5. “We may not be as tuned and focused on the details. But I like watching basketball in general. It doesn’t really matter who’s on. It’s really not hard at all.
“We know what Houston’s about and we know what Utah’s about and their style of play. At this point, there really isn’t anything different jumping off the TV.”
First, of course, the Warriors must handle their business with the Clippers and the Rockets must dispatch the Jazz. There is little chance of the Warriors getting extra rest before the next round. That evaporated when they squandered a 31-point lead to lose Game 2 and deny themselves a chance to sweep LA.
The Warriors are angrier about losing Game 2 at Oracle than Houston is about taking a 3-0 series lead into Game 4 at Utah and losing to the Jazz.
If the Warriors and Rockets win their Game 5s, and both are favored, they could face each other as soon as this weekend. It’s not ideal, but it’s the best they can do. Each game either team loses only delays the inevitable.
“Any chance you get during the playoffs for some rest, you have to try to get that,” Warriors coach Steve Kerr said. “It’s a long haul. If you go to the Finals, that’s almost two months. The more we can have time in between for preparation and rest, the better that serves us going forward.”
The Warriors know they have to go through LA to get to Houston. As much as they love their trips to Southern California, they want no part of a Game 6 on Friday.
“Six, seven games, the fans love it,” Klay Thompson said. “We love it, too.
“But we’d rather end it quickly. It’s such a long year that any day’s rest you can get, it’s beneficial in the long run.”
So, go ahead and rub your hands together. Buy the wings now and remember everything you’ll need for the nachos. Warriors-Rockets is the series wanted by each team, by their fans and by pretty much anyone who cares the slightest about the NBA.
“They’re a great team. They have two Hall of Fame guards in the backcourt. Everyone else has carved out a nice role,” Thompson said of the Rockets. “I know they’re itching to get another shot at us. When two teams meet like that when the stakes are that high, it makes for the best basketball in the world.”
Kerr noted that “closeout games are always difficult.” That’s particularly true of teams without closers and with too much complacency. The Warriors have several closers, and all of them are engaged.
Expect the Warriors to roll in Game 5 and the Rockets likely will do the same in Houston. Seeing each in the distance doesn’t mean they can’t see what’s in front of them.