* Recap: Rockets 116, Warriors 108
What looked like a runaway conference might not be, after all. For most of the NBA season’s first half, it was Golden State comfortably out front of the other West contenders, with a cushion that likely was only going to grow.
But with Houston’s prime-time victory over the defending champions Saturday night, the race cinched up a little bit. The Rockets became only the third team to win a season series against the Warriors in the Steve Kerr “era,” and hold the tie breaker if the two clubs finish in a tie at season’s end. ESPN’s Tim MacMahon captured some of the chatter:
“We’re confident because we know if we’re doing what we’re supposed to do, we’re going to beat them,” Rockets center Clint Capela told ESPN. “We’ve got to keep playing. We know that they’re going to come back if we have the lead, and we’ve just got to keep that mindset. Sometimes I feel like, in the past, we were all dragging down after mistakes. But today, we were ready. I think that if we’re doing what we’re supposed to do on defense — all the switches, the weak side — and keep playing our offense by keeping that mentality all game long, we have the weapons to beat them.
“We are better than them.”
“Mentally, now we have a chance to go after the No. 1 seed,” Rockets sixth man Eric Gordon said. “Because if it’s a tie at the end of the year, we have that edge. That’s why we all thought it was very important to win. Now that we’re healthy, I think that we’re going to get back to a big winning streak and get back to doing what we need to do, like we did earlier in the year.”
The Rockets (32-12) are 3.5 games behind the Warriors (37-10) for first place in the Western Conference standings and the league’s best overall record.
“That’s what we’re rooting for,” said Harden, who had 22 points and eight assists in his second game back from a strained hamstring. “It’s not going to be easy. Every single game, we’re going to have to take it for ourselves and not relax. It’s not about who we’re playing. It’s about us and each and every game getting better.”
Gordon went so far as to say the Rockets are the Warriors’ equals on the offensive end, a lofty claim. His concessions to the champs’ continued greatness are on defense and in consistency. “Us, we still have peaks and valleys,” he said. Houston has about three months and 38 games left to fix its flaws for a playoff run. Which might or might not include as many as seven more games against their No. 1 rivals.
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