Warriors-Rockets rivalry feels different with Golden State in transition

Logan Murdock

HOUSTON -- As Warriors coach Steve Kerr spoke to a small media contingency just inside the Houston Rockets practice facility Wednesday morning, pictures of Rockets teams of the past lined the corridor behind him.

The symbol of nostalgia was appropriate. Throughout Kerr's tenure in Golden State, the Toyota Center has housed some of his team's biggest postseason moments. On the Warriors' way to five straight NBA Finals, the Rockets stood in the way during four of those runs.

Now, with the Warriors in transition and Houston still competing for titles, Kerr still is adjusting to the change in the rivalry.

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"It's different," Kerr admitted hours before Wednesday's matchup against the Rockets. "We've been here for so many big games over the years"

Golden State's last visit to downtown Houston came under heightened expectations. With Kevin Durant out with a calf injury, Stephen Curry and Klay Thompson combined for 60 points, helping the Warriors eliminate the Rockets in Game 6 of the Western Conference semifinals. Over the final 12 minutes of the game, Curry scored 23 of his game-high 33 points, capping one of the greatest games in Golden State lore.

"Last year's Game 6 win was possibly the best win we've ever had. Just in terms of the injuries and the way we played, the way Steph played in the second half, the way the ball moved. To finish out a great team in a series on the road."

Nearly five months later, Kerr's team finds itself in a much different place.

In the last 30 days, five players have missed games due to injury, including Thompson and Curry, who will be re-evaluated in February. Draymond Green will miss the current three-game road trip with a torn ligament in his left index finger. Of the healthy bodies on the roster Wednesday, none played in the postseason matchup against the Rockets last spring.

Golden State's health is so dire, that the team canceled a scheduled practice Tuesday evening in part to make sure two-way players Damion Lee and Ky Bowman wouldn't waste any of the 45 non-G-League days allotted by the league.

As the Warriors are navigating a new world, the Rockets are attempting to stay in contention. Two months after being eliminated by Golden State, the team traded for All-Star guard Russell Westbrook to pair with his old teammate James Harden. So far the pairing has yielded average results. Entering Wednesday's matchup, Houston has lost two of its last three games, including a 129-100 loss to Miami on Sunday evening.  

"It's early. It's hard to evaluate a team based on however many - seven games," Kerr said. "So it'll take some time to get everything in order. They had a slow start last year and they ended up being one of the best teams in the league so I'd imagine the same thing will happen."

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As for Kerr, the team has some hope amid its early-season struggles. Rookie forward Eric Paschall -- who Golden State drafted 41st overall in June -- has been on a tear, averaging 29.5 points and eight rebounds over his last two games, giving the Warriors at least a chance at another memorable game Wednesday evening.

"This building will always be special for me," Kerr said. "Coming in here just thinking about all the great battles we've had."

Warriors-Rockets rivalry feels different with Golden State in transition originally appeared on NBC Sports Bay Area

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