Kerr: Rock­ets’ hunger no ad­van­tage

The Mercury News Weekend - - SPORTS - By Melissa Rohlin mrohlin@ba­yare­anews­group.com Staff writer Lo­gan Mur­dock con­trib­uted to this re­port.

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.”

ERIC CHRIS­TIAN SMITH — THE AS­SO­CI­ATED PRESS

Houston’s Chris Paul, left, and James Har­den are two of the league’s best play­ers who have never won an NBA ti­tle.

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