Warriors not focusing on Rockets as lone threat to title defense

ByChris Haynes ESPN logo
Thursday, January 4, 2018

The Houston Rockets may be obsessed with trying to figure out how they can defeat Golden State, but the Warriors are not reciprocating at the moment.

"It's no disrespect," Warriors forward Kevin Durant told ESPN, "but we're not coming in every day saying we're just thinking about Houston. We know how great they are. We know it's a team that's going to be contending for a title along with us and couple other teams. But we're focusing on ourselves right now."

Draymond Green told ESPN that the Rockets are one of many challengers to the defending NBA champions.

"Every team's a threat," Green said. "You can lose to anybody."

Houston (27-9), which is two games behind Golden State (30-8) for the top spot in the Western Conference, hosts the Warriors on Thursday night at the Toyota Center.

In their first meeting this season, the Rockets took down the Warriors at Oracle Arena on opening night, winning 122-121. Durant, who will miss Thursday's contest with aright calf strain, said the game isn't a must-win situation to prove that the Warriors are still the team to beat in the NBA.

He also pointed out that other teams, aside from the Rockets, should be taken seriously.

"You've got San Antonio, you've got Houston, you've got Boston, you've got Cleveland obviously, you've got OKC, who I think it's tough. They nice. You've got Minnesota," Durant told ESPN. "The great thing about this game is it's a matter of movement. Players can move and, boom, you're a contender. [Chris Paul] comes over there, and it changes the whole [Houston] franchise around. You've got to love it."

Durant injured his right calf in the first quarter Wednesday night against the Dallas Mavericks, but played through it.

Andre Iguodala will play Thursday after sitting out with a lower back strain against Dallas.Omri Casspi is still listed as questionable with a mid-back strain.

Last month, Rockets general manager Daryl Morey told ESPN Radio's The Ryen Russillo Show that beating the Warriors is "the only thing we think about." Much of how the Rockets' roster was constructed is intended to match up with the personnel of the Warriors.

Paul -- a perennial All-Star point guard -- and forwardsPJ Tuckerand Luc Mbah a Moute were the team's big offseason additions.

"My viewpoint as far as them making moves for us, I respect that," Green told ESPN. "The goal is to win a championship, and if you're not trying to win a championship, then what are you doing it for?

"So I respect that they're trying to make moves being that we're the defending champions. But I'm not going into Game 39 of the season talking about we got to beat the Houston Rockets because they've made moves to beat us. It's just another game, and we'll try to get better like we do every game."

Rockets starJames Harden, who is averaging 32.3 points and 9.1 assists, is sidelined with a hamstring injury. Warriors coach Steve Kerr doesn't think that will affect how the Rockets play.

"They're going to play the same way, but they're missing the guy who would probably be the MVP of the league right now," Kerr said. "So it's obviously a huge loss for him. And to be honest, I'd much rather play them with him because we need to get used what we might see down the road if we see them in the playoffs."

Golden State is coming off of a narrow victory on the road against the Mavericks, a game in which the home team drained 19 3-pointers. Kerr said the Warriors' defense against the 3-ball is worrisome.

"It's an area of concern, major concern, and we're going to go play a team that's going to maybe shoot 60 of them," he said. "So we need to clean that up."

The Rockets launch more 3s (43.1) and make more (15.8) per game than any team in the NBA. Golden State (115.4) has a slight lead over Houston (115.3) as the league's highest-scoring team. Defensively, the Rockets have multiple players who are versatile and capable of switching onto any position, similar to the Warriors.

The Warriors are showing respect to the Rockets and have no problem with them believing they are on the cusp of dethroning the champs.

"That's what they're supposed to think," Durant told ESPN. "When you win a championship, everyone wants to beat you, and they're one of the closest teams to us as far as how we play, how we move, how we shoot the 3. They have a nice formula over there.

"We know they want to beat us, but that only makes us better and it only makes the competition even better when you're out there on the court. It's just fun. It's fun for the fans, it's fun for the players, it's fun for the game in general. We'll see what happens."

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