(Photo Credit: USA Today Sports via Reuters/Kyle Terada)
Golden State (58-24) are trying to become the fifth team in history to reach four consecutive NBA Finals and gunning for their third title in that stretch. The Warriors did not exert themselves too much in the first two rounds, dispatching both the San Antonio Spurs and New Orleans Pelicans in five games each.
Still, the Warriors are showing they are taking nothing for granted on this potential title run, unleashing their "Death" lineup in the final two games of the series versus New Orleans from the opening tip for the first time since Kevin Durant joined them at the start of last season.
Coach Steve Kerr, who has been to the finals every season since taking over the Warriors in 2014, said his team knows full well the challenge the Rockets present.
"They are taking the challenge and they're embracing it," Kerr told reporters on Thursday. "But we seem to be at our best when we are threatened. That's been kind of the M.O. of this team, and we're definitely threatened. Our guys have rings. That's a good position to be in."
Houston (65-17), who have not been to the NBA Finals since winning the second of back-to-back titles in 1995, showed their best season in franchise history and the best season in the NBA in 2017/18 was no fluke after also rolling to the conference finals for the second time in five years.
The Rockets also needed ten games to get to this point, eliminating both the Minnesota Timberwolves and Utah Jazz by 4-1 counts.
The offseason addition of point guard Chris Paul to join frontrunner MVP candidate James Harden has given the Rockets a backcourt to match the firepower of Golden State counterparts Stephen Curry and Klay Thompson, and they hope Clint Capela can lead a frontcourt that will try to offset the scoring prowess of Durant and the versatility of Draymond Green.
"This team is going to be hard; it’s going to be a fight," Capela told the league's official website. "There’s going to be a lot of adjustments after every game. It’s going to be a chess game. Of course, we’re going to be ready. They’ve been to the finals for three straight years. We’re just excited. Everybody’s excited about it. And I’m sure all the NBA fans are excited about it, too."
The Warriors have eliminated the Rockets twice in the previous three postseasons, beating them in five games in the 2015 conference finals and again in five games in the first round in 2016.
The series will continue in Houston with Game 2 on Wednesday night.