Parity in the West
Heading into the season we knew there was going to be parity in the Western Conference, as opposed to the previous three years. The Golden State Warriors were by far the best team in the league, as they had four future Hall of Famers in their starting lineup, which led them to two NBA titles. As if this weren’t enough, the Dubs went out and added four-time All-Star DeMarcus Cousins prior to the 2018-19 season.
The Warriors went 73-9 during the 2016-17 season before they even added Kevin Durant, which gave them a significant advantage. But the Dubs were dismantled heading into this season, as KD bolted to Brooklyn and Klay Thompson suffered a torn ACL during the 2019 NBA Finals.
After the Dubs were broken up, we began to see teams assemble star duos, as the LA Clippers landed Kawhi Leonard and Paul George and the Los Angeles Lakers acquire Anthony Davis to play alongside LeBron James. The Rockets obviously followed suit by pairing former MVP Russell Westbrook to share the backcourt with James Harden. Fertitta had the below to say about the newfound parity in the Western Conference:
None of us fear L.A. or the Clippers or Denver like we feared Golden State,” he said. “It’s not like how we were scared of them. We could easily win the West this year or get knocked out in the first round. Both L.A. teams, Denver, Houston, we’re all excellent teams. Just comes down to somebody gets hot and makes a shot. Our chances are as good as they’ve ever been.”
The quote that went viral following Fertitta’s interview was regarding the Warriors, as many took his comments to mean the Rockets were weak-minded and literally scared of the Warriors but that’s actually not what he said.
Fertitta’s statement was actually in reference to more than just how the Rockets viewed the Warriors, which is evident by him starting out that sentence by saying “none of us fear….” He’s sharing how the Western Conference teams looked at the Warriors altogether and knew there was a competitive disadvantage that no longer exists in the West.
It’s crazy that this was perceived as the Rockets actually being in fear of the Warriors, because they went toe-to-toe against the Dubs and were a CP3 hamstring away from dethroning the Warriors.
As it pertains to the LA teams Fertitta mentioned, the Rockets have every reason to be confident against both teams as they’ve gone 2-1 against the Clippers and recently dismantled the Lakers with the small ball strategy.
The one team he expressed concern about is the Milwaukee Bucks, which is likely who the Rockets will face if they make it to the NBA Finals.
“I think Milwaukee is head over heels above everybody else…But I’m not worried about anybody in the West.
This is valid considering how the Bucks have the best record in the league and have the MVP from the 2018-19 season, but I won’t get into that. But as it pertains to the Bucks, they haven’t seen this version of the Houston Rockets, as the two teams haven’t met since the first game of the season, and we know the Rockets weren’t using the small-ball strategy at that point.
We’ll have to see how the Rockets shape out down the stretch, but it wouldn’t be wise to bet against them, considering where they’re already at. It’s only going to get even easier with everyone understanding their roles and having already gotten accustomed to playing together.