Kerr: Rockets’ hunger no advantage
The Houston Rockets are a threat for many reasons, high among them is their hunger for a championship.
Rockets stars James Harden and Chris Paul are two of the greatest players in the league who share an unwanted commonality — they’ve never won a title. And neither of them is a spring chicken: Harden is 28 and Paul is 33.
It’s fair to wonder whether that gives them an edge, especially considering the Warriors struggled with boredom and complacency during what felt like a marathon season following three straight NBA Finals appearances and two NBA championships.
But, according to Warriors coach Steve Kerr, the Rockets don’t have any sort of advantage.
“No, I like where we are,” Kerr said. “Our guys have rings. That’s a good position to be in. To me, the hard- est championship is the first one, as an individual player and as a team, because you don’t know — you don’t quite know if you can do it.
“Once you get the first one, there’s a little bit of house money. But you want it again because it’s an unbelievable feeling. I like our position. We’re going to go in here knowing we’re the defending champs, knowing we have a couple of championships here the last few years. Let’s go get another one.”
The Warriors have transformed into a different team since the postseason began. They went from playing lackluster defense at times, to being No. 1 in the league in defensive efficiency in the playoffs. They’re locked in. Draymond Green averaged a triple-double against New Orleans in the Western Conference semifinals, becoming the first Warrior to ever do that. Kevin Durant is playing with what he calls “force.” Stephen Curry is gaining confidence by the day. And Klay Thompson is averaging a postseason career-high 45.2 percent shooting from the field.
“We definitely expect to win a championship this year,” Thompson said. “That puts a lot of pressure. I’m sure they feel the same way. Their fan base is itching for a championship. Our fan base is itching for a continuous ride.”
At Thursday’s practice, the Warriors went over how they were going to guard Harden and Paul, with special consideration to all of the isolation plays they run. That being said, Kerr was the first to acknowledge that may have been an act of futility.
“You can simulate it, but good luck trying to match what James Harden does and what Chris does,” Kerr said. “But we did a nice impersonation today.”
Kerr said, in a way, Paul reminds him of Green be- cause both of them are so intense and passionate about the game.
“Chris is a killer,” Kerr said. “He’s one of the great competitors in the league. That’s how Draymond is. You’ve got to have guys like that if you’re going to win.”
One thing is for sure — it’ll be interesting, and the Warriors seem to think it’ll bring out the best in them.
“We’re just as hungry as we were last year and the year before that,” Thompson said. “I don’t know how they feel. But we’re ready to get this series going.”
Added Durant: “The rest of the guys on the team, they want to see what three (championships) feels like. I want to see what a second one feels like.”
• With Oklahoma City Thunder forward Nick Collison announcing his retirement from the NBA after 15 years, Durant spoke glowingly about his former teammate.
“Nick meant a lot tome,” Durant said Thursday. “As a young player, coming into the league. Just somebody I could lean on and build with.”
Collison was Durant’s teammate for nine years while Durant played for the Seattle Super Sonics during his rookie season and when the team relocated to Oklahoma City to become the Thunder in 2008. Both were members of the Thunder team that went to the 2012 NBA Finals, ultimately losing to the Miami Heat in five games.
“He taught me so much about the business of basketball, the life of basketball, what it takes to continue to do this for so long,” Durant said. “Fifteen years in the league is a lot for a guy, but just his work ethic, his care of the game, his smarts for the game is the reason why he lasted for so long.
“He’s a brother for life, so I’m glad I met someone like that throughout this journey.”
Houston’s Chris Paul, left, and James Harden are two of the league’s best players who have never won an NBA title.