Rockets aim to break through against Warriors
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The Houston Rockets hope to continue a hot run while also stirring up some of their regular-season magic when they seek to dethrone the defending champion Golden State Warriors in a Western Conference semifinal series that tips off Sunday afternoon in Oakland, Calif.
The rivals will be meeting in the postseason for the fourth time in the last five seasons, with Golden State having prevailed in the previous three, including twice in the Western Finals.
The latter includes last season, when the Rockets held a 3-2 edge in the series before losing Chris Paul to a hamstring injury. The Warriors went on to win the final two games by a total of 38 points to advance to the NBA Finals, where they swept the Cleveland Cavaliers for a third championship in four seasons.
The top-seeded Warriors will have home-court advantage this year, but the fourth-seeded Rockets already have demonstrated an ability to win at Golden State, sweeping both regular-season meetings in Oakland.
Houston also might have an advantage in Game 1, as Warriors guards Stephen Curry and Klay Thompson are both questionable due to right ankle injuries, according to coach Steve Kerr.
Rockets center Clint Capela went public following the Rockets' five-game, first-round elimination of Utah with a statement insisting he hoped the Warriors would be his team's next opponent.
"That's what I want; I want to face them," he said at his postgame press conference Wednesday night. "If you want to be a champion, you've got to beat the champion."
After having gone up against Jazz standout big man Rudy Gobert in Round 1, Capela catches a break against the Warriors in that center DeMarcus Cousins is out with a quad injury.
All the other key players appear to be healthy for the series opener, for which the Rockets have been waiting in Oakland for two days while Golden State was forced to travel to Los Angeles to eliminate the Clippers in a sixth game on Friday.
Having a higher rate of success than the Warriors in the first round of the playoffs mirrored the final eight weeks of the regular season, during which, starting with their 118-112 win at Golden State on Feb. 23, the Rockets went 20-4, while the Warriors posted just a 15-9 mark.
Golden State finally put the eighth-seeded Clippers away thanks in large part to Andre Iguodala's defense on Lou Williams, harassing him into 3-for-21 shooting in the series finale after he had torched the Warriors for 36 and 33 points in earlier road wins.
Iguodala now gets an opportunity to resume acquaintances with longtime rival James Harden, and admitted after Friday's win that dealing with Williams should have him better prepared for the challenge.
"It kind of helps because they're similar in some ways," he told reporters after the game. "They're both really crafty at getting foul calls, especially when getting into the paint. You have to be careful with that."
After Harden blitzed them for 41 points in the playoff opener last season, the Warriors held the Houston standout under 50-percent shooting in each of the last six games of the series, including 12-for-29 in the decisive Game 7.
Harden had 44 points as part of a triple-double in an overtime win at Golden State in January, but was held to 18-for-46 shooting in his other two head-to-heads.
After having lost 10 of 11 in the regular season and eight of 10 in the playoffs to the Warriors to begin the Steve Kerr coaching era, the Rockets have won each of the last two season series, sandwiching last year's near-miss in the Western Finals.
Game 2 in the best-of-seven also is scheduled for Oakland on Tuesday.
--Field Level Media
Updated April 27, 2019