With Rockets Healthy and Dominant, This Will No Doubt Be Warriors’ Hardest Championship

[CSNBY] With Rockets healthy and dominant, this will no doubt be Warriors' hardest championship
Ray Ratto

This has been a trying season for the Golden State Warriors – I mean, trying being a relative term here – but especially for those Warriors who were here in 2014-15 and watching the Houston Rockets have that very season.
 
Fortunately for them, they are channeling most of their energies in escaping the injury list, but the fact remains the same. Houston is playing better, may well BE better, and is showing no signs of slowing to enjoy the view in the rear-view mirror.
 
This isn't just the way they beat Portland in Portland Tuesday night, but they way they have gone 30-3 – which is 29 more versions of the way they beat Portland Tuesday. They are not a direct comp with that Warriors team except at the macro level, which is that they are the ones whose players know how they fit with each other, and they are the ones who have one more effective player than everyone else.
 
And they're the ones fielding the full team when everyone else is dented and belching blue smoke.
 
The Warriors won their two championships for many reasons, but one that bears repeating is the fact they finished fourth from the bottom in man-games lost to injury – in other words, they were healthy when all those around them are not.
 
Now they look like tired and creaky and spare-part-y, and as much as people have tried to hitch their wagons to the secret stopgap of the week – this week's winner, Quinn Cook – they are getting karma'd the hard way this year. The player who has played the most games is Nick Young, who was hailed as an excellent 10th man when he was signed, and their top four players (Harrison Barnes being the pre-Kevin Durant) have gone from missing 10 games in 2015 to 21 to 33 to 46.
 
This may seem normal given that this has been a worse year for injuries in the NBA than last year, but timing matters too. James Harden's last missed game was March 11 (before that January 15), Chris Paul's was December 28, and Clint Capela has missed one game since December 29. Houston's run began on January 8.
 
Coincidence? No. The reason Houston is better? Also no. There are plenty of other metrics that show that pretty clearly, including those pesky standings. The best team has the best record, as it did in the last three seasons (exempting, of course, that troublesome June in 2016), so live with it. 
 
Can this change? Yes. It's March 21, and lots of things can happen to any team, most of them bad. But the difference is this – Houston needs as few of those things to happen as possible, and the Warriors need several of them. That hasn't been true before. One-seeds have won eight of the last 10 titles for a reason, and the Warriors have been inspirational frontrunners.
 
But now they have to punch uphill, and they can't even start punching until their injury list shortens to a manageable – oh, let's say five; don't want to peak too soon.
 
And then let's see how long it takes for them to get up to speed, both physically and as a unit. It is not inconceivable that they could run out of time before they run out of problems.
 
The point is, Houston is showing just how hard this is going to be for the Warriors, and if Golden State does win anyway, it will be their best championship because it will be the hardest. Not their most fun, mind you, but legacies are built on degree of difficulty.
 
Anyway, they no longer have a choice. They're coming off the pace, or they're not arriving at all.

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