Never Understimate The Heart Of A Warrior

Do I have your attention now?

Look, Houston fans, I appreciate you. I really do. I truly do. Unfortunately, the way I see Twitter light up after a loss is embarrassing, just shy of outrageous. Yes, the Rockets are 0-4 against the Golden State Warriors. This does not mean the Rockets will fail to make the playoffs, nor does it guarantee that the team won’t see any postseason success. But let’s face some facts first.

The Warriors are better than the Rockets. Read that. Commit it to memory. Embrace it, even. In a seven game series, the Rockets most likely don’t make it past the Warriors. The chips have to fall in such a way to make it as much, so it’s not a given, nor is it an inevitability. In an NBA where a win or a loss is, at times, a crapshoot due to talent, the Warriors just have theirs in sync better than any other team in the NBA. There’s a reason they’re on pace for 70 wins this season and lead the NBA in almost every appreciable statistical category.

December 10, 2014; Oakland, CA, USA; Golden State Warriors guard Stephen Curry (30) shoots the basketball against Houston Rockets guard Patrick Beverley (2) during the fourth quarter at Oracle Arena. The Warriors defeated the Rockets 105-93. Mandatory Credit: Kyle Terada-USA TODAY Sports

Houston isn’t terrible, they’re just not better than Golden State. Commit this to memory, too. Houston has a great team this year. One that many of the people reading this didn’t believe would be improved from last year. Indeed, the voice of reason after this offseason was one moron on The Dreamshake. The Rockets are currently missing their starting power forward from last year and have weathered a fairly lengthy absence from their star center. In spite of all of this Houston is still comfortably in the 5th seed in the West and could easily leapfrog to 3rd. More to the fact of the matter, if Houston maintains 4th or 5th they could dodge the Warriors in the playoffs.

You may be asking “Why, Brandon, why is Golden State better than the Rockets?” Well, a couple of reasons, really. First, fans tend to overrate their own talent and lash out at management/coaches before ever holding players accountable for their production. Second, more importantly, really, is that the Warriors force you to play their style of basketball. They can play small ball and run you out of the gym or they can execute in the half court. The important factor is that they play what you don’t want to. This works against Houston because the team lacks an identity.

Dec 31, 2014; Houston, TX, USA; Houston Rockets guard Corey Brewer (33) dunks the ball during the first quarter against the Charlotte Hornets at Toyota Center. Mandatory Credit: Troy Taormina-USA TODAY Sports

Yes, the Rockets lack an identity. For all the praise I give McHale, and conversely for all of the slings and arrows he suffers, forging the Rockets into a consistent identity is no small task. Specifically, because this identity has changed and doesn’t seem to fit as easily, the team is in limbo performance-wise. In theory they are a defensive team that likes to run but should prefer the halfcourt. The addition of Corey Brewer and Josh Smith, as well as Houston’s tempo the last three years, says they’re a team out to hit the fast break and gamble defensively. Even within this season that identity has not stabilized. Losses like those dealt by Golden State are to be expected, really.

This article isn’t about all doom and gloom though, it really isn’t.

Breathe easier because the season is halfway over. Terrence Jones is yet to return and, even if he doesn’t, the integration of Corey Brewer and Josh Smith raises questions on both sides of the ball that the team is adjusting and accounting for. It’ll come together. Particularly, Josh Smith has been with the team for less than a month and he alters the way the second unit plays as much as Corey Brewer does. The important part is that time be given to acclimate. There’s other issues to solve for Houston, though.

Turnovers are the bane of winning basketball. From Joey Dorsey’s bench-induced posterior cramping to James Harden’s bearded glory, this team cannot sustain its turnover rate and expect to play winning ball over the course of a season. The remedy for that pleasantly dovetails into the general fix of identity. If Houston begins showcasing discipline and half court basketball rather than a willingness to hearken back to the days before a legitimate pair of post threats in Motiejunas and Howard, then these things will happen. You can’t play freewheeling basketball and not cough the ball up. That one is simple.

Let me leave you with one final encouraging thought in the worst possible way. Injuries happen. The Warriors have been fortunate to not have to have dealt with injuries to integral components. Andrew Bogut’s absence is something the Warriors should be acclimated to. What they are not acclimated to is any potential injury to Klay Thompson or Steph Curry, two players central to what Golden State does. Houston has shown it can weather the loss of Dwight Howard. Though it should be more alarming or panic inducing if James Harden goes down, Houston has shown an ability to win short handed. Golden State has yet to be challenged in that regard.

Only time will tell how good this Houston team is and that challenge may come against Golden State. At the heart of those Warriors, however, are some unresolved questions that will try their fortitude. At the heart of the Rockets, one can only hope it’s not only a warrior, but a true champion.