Can the Houston Rockets beat the Golden State Warriors

The surging Rockets, winners of 16 consecutive games, have shown themselves able to win in any scenario. But what does that mean exactly in relation to a seven-game series with the Warriors?

Kahron Spearman

The Houston Rockets have been, y'know, playing OK as of late.  

They're just winner of 16 straight games, getting it done in every way imaginable. But the $64,000 question remains: are they good enough to beat the Golden State Warriors?

Let's first consider the reigning champions. Golden State (50-14) are coasting into the playoffs, and sit just a half-game back of surging Houston. They've been whispers that the Warriors don't have the same gusto as previous seasons, that the team is a little bored, a bit tired of playing so many seasons deep into the playoffs.

And some of it may have some veracity. There's only one LeBron James, a basketball genius/machine that has played in the last seven consecutive NBA Finals. It's one of the great feats in league history. Meanwhile, the Warriors have two superstars who've had some noted durability issues.

My money says the Dubs are simply mentally fatigued with the regular season's doldrums, ready for playoff actions to start.

Houston, on the other hand, has been a world-destroying squad, snatching victories left and right with a blend of offensive prowess and legitimate focus on the defensive side of the ball.

With James Harden leading the MVP race, and a healthy Chris Paul in tow, and a deep roster, they seem to have more to roll out onto the Warriors than the Warriors do for them?

So why can't we fully believe in the Rockets?

The Warriors score a league-leading 114 points per 100 possessions this season, yet often lose when they fail to top 102 points per 100 possessions; their record in those situations is 2-7 in 2017-18. Shaving off points from the Warriors high-octane offense, even on just a handful of possessions, could be the difference between the Rockets reaching the NBA Finals for the first time since 1995 or retooling in the offseason for another run at the champs.

Using some advanced metrics, via, we can bypass emotion for a moment, and see what the data says.

The Rockets lead the league in margin of victory (8.84) over the runner-up Warriors (8.75.) Point differential has long been a harbinger of championship worth. The problem here: the average being zero, Houston (-0.26) has had the lower strength of schedule than the Warriors (0.02.) 

The teams are about the same with both offensive and defensive rating. However, in effective field goal percentage (offense and defense) we see some separation with the Warriors from the Rockets.

At 58.2 percent, Golden State has the highest offensive rating in league history for a season. In fact, they've had the three highest in league history with the last three seasons.

The Rocket's 55.5 percent isn't anything to laugh though.

But we flip over to defensive 'eFG%' and it gets messy for Houston. Golden State has a 49.7 percent rate, good for fourth in the league (against a better schedule so far.) The Rockets currently sit at 52.8 percent, good for 19th in the NBA.

Now, Houston limits most teams' offensive rebounding production and produce more turnovers, both on an 'effective' basis. 

So what does this suggest for the Rockets' chance in a head to head series with the Warriors? It's not going to be pretty.

What the data flatly suggests is that the Warriors routinely better, more efficient looks on a more consistent basis than the Rockets. Conversely, the Rockets - even with specific numbers in their favor - give up too many clean looks. These two ideas can't coexist and have anyone picture Houston coming out victorious.

In the playoffs, where everything tightens up to the team's norm, and team/player focus will reset. It's difficult to see the Rockets taking even two games from the defending champions.


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