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Warriors win; add more record-breaking pain to the Houston Rockets franchise
The Dubs handed Clutch City their franchise record 18th-straight defeat.
For all the members of Dub Nation who are frustrated with the Golden State Warriors front office and disappointed with this season, I hope you watched last night’s victory over the Houston Rockets carefully. We witnessed a cautionary tale of the thin line between brilliance and tragedy in team building. The strain of striving for titles has cost both of these franchises dearly; but it appears the Warriors were much better suited to pay the price.
Now sure, these Warriors aren’t THE WARRIORS that “ruined the game” and held the Western Conference in an unbreakable stranglehold for five years. They’re rocked by injuries (gosh I miss Klay Thompson), with a bunch of new faces scrambling to find their role around the aging but deadly Stephen Curry and Draymond Green. But with all that in mind they do still have a winning record (barely) and are well in the hunt for a playoff spot despite all the bizarre circumstances of this Covid-19 era.
Their former rivals from Houston haven’t been so fortunate.
Houston, you have a problem
You remember the good ol’ Rockets? Arguably the greatest Western Conference antagonist of the Warriors dynasty run. Wellp, they have been broken by the trades of their stars, coaching staff/front office upheaval, and injuries. Currently mired in a franchise high 18-game losing streak, this team is buried in the caves of NBA irrelevance. This is how The Dream Shake (a prominent Rockets fan community) reacted to their loss to Golden State:
There it is, TDS. The longest losing streak in franchise history. The Houston Rockets were down all night and never really threatened past the first quarter, as even the return of Christian Wood couldn’t change Houston’s trajectory, as they fell 108-94 to the Golden State Warriors and into the record books of futility.
Despite plummeting to 11-28 on the year, the Rockets do show some bright spots. Three of the main pieces for the future continued to shine, and we should be focusing on the development of these young players as GM Rafael Stone works his magic on the rebuild.
That’s tough. Painful to read even for someone like myself, a guy who once enraged Houston fans by demanding they stop pretending their team was ever gonna win anything. Those of us who were fortunate to participate on the old GSOM boards are quite familiar with TDS, who during their heyday once predicted they would be the ones to knock off the dynasty Warriors. That link features classic Duby Dub Dubs fighting the good fight and reminding Rockets fans not to get their hopes up too high.
Since then, Houston has become a complete mess. I mean, for as much as people hate on the Warriors for underperforming this season compared to their (recent) championship tradition, they’re nowhere near as bombed out and depleted as this current Houston product.
Franchise superstar attitudes matter
The Warriors eliminated the Rockets four times in five postseasons and exposed their flaws. Even though the Lakers eliminated the Rockets in the bubble playoffs and effectively buried the Mike D’Antoni/Daryl Morey/James Harden-era, it was Golden State who had dragged the Rockets kicking and screaming from the trunk and tossed them into the ditch.
Houston built their entire organization around Harden’s unique talents, even allegedly shipping out star guard Chris Paul to appease Harden only one season after CP3 was anointed the piece who was gonna help the Rockets “run it back” against the Dubs. Harden suffered accusations that he was mailing it in and declared that the situation was something unfixable before being traded to Brooklyn.
It’s all enough to make any member of Dub Nation pause and appreciate Curry’s loyalty, a team-first man battling for a lowly 7th seed despite having an MVP caliber season. No veiled (or overt) trade demands; complete professionalism and leadership on and off the court. No behind the scenes rumblings that he wants Green or Thompson shipped out or that he can’t stand James Wiseman fumbling rebounds.
Coaching philosophies matter
The stark contrast between the two stars extends deeper into the philosophical outlooks of the two franchises. If you’ve been on Warriors Twitter anytime over the last two years, you’ve seen the frustration some folks have had with Coach Kerr’s rigidity to his pass-heavy, pick-and-roll shy system. I’ll never forget this piece from Off the Glass describing the systemic differences between Kerr and the former Rockets coach D’Antoni:
“(Kerr) The seven-time NBA champion approaches basketball from a mystical, almost religious point-of-view. He truly believes the ball generates energy as it moves, and the more times the ball is passed, the more likely it ends up in the hoop. He wants the Warriors to pass the ball 300 times every game. He commands two or three of the most dominant offensive talents of a generation, and he often wants them to set back screens so role players can get open shots.”
Meanwhile Harden’s Rockets spammed the pick-and-roll constantly like it was a Tekken combo, destroying most non-GSW teams behind Harden’s special ball-handling and scoring talents. But in the postseason Houston’s system failed to succeed in tragically comical fashion, while Kerr has maximized the Golden State offense when it has mattered most.
Last season Kerr talked about how he was going to adjust to injuries and roster changes and made a point to mention how it wouldn’t be based on Houston’s model:
"We're not reinventing the wheel. We're still gonna be the Warriors," Kerr said on an appearance on The Athletic's TK Show, via Yahoo. "We're not gonna all of a sudden turn into the Rockets -- change our offense -- and have one guy go high pick-and-roll 70 times a game."
Here’s a mic’d up Curry at All-Star 2019 relaying a conversation he had with Harden where the Beard confessed he didn’t like playing in the Rockets style:
“There is no one left”
The Warriors are perfectly situated to make some noise in first round of the playoffs this season with an eye on making a serious run next season pending Thompson’s health. Meanwhile the Rockets are trying to survive the rest of the season with no ties to their previous success and no strong identity for the future besides “Christian Wood is hella good”.
Thinking back to the earlier TDS quote about the 11-28 Rockets having some young talent to build around: don’t the Dubs have fascinating youngsters of their own? Golden State has kept three members of the Hamptons 5 while simultaneously snagging fresh pieces for future development. James Wiseman, Eric Paschall, and Jordan Poole are a few of the guys who have shown signs of being real players, with the onus on Kerr to figure out how maximize their potential.
And don’t let them get the Minnesota Timberwolves pick next year and draft another big piece. The league could be in serious trouble…again.
While the Dubs aren’t anywhere close to where we all want them to be, I’m still proud of their current fight and heavily anticipating their potential going forward. It’s awesome that our Big 3 seem to be committed to sticking together; it remains to be seen if the new pieces rally around them in time. I’m sure the Rockets would kill to have those kinda problems.