At 25-6, the Houston Rockets have gotten off to a brilliant start to the 2017-2018 campaign.
For the most part, Houston’s offense has been unstoppable as the team ranks second in points per game (115.1) and first in three-pointers made (16.0) and attempted (43.1) per contest. Coach Mike D’Antoni’s run-and-gun offensive system has meshed perfectly with the team’s personnel, who have adopted a winning approach.
Despite their early success, the Rockets aren’t guaranteed anything in a tough Western Conference, though.
After all, the Golden State Warriors exist. They’ve made it to the NBA Finals three years in a row and have won two of the last three titles.
The San Antonio Spurs have had 20-straight winning seasons and 18-straight 50-plus win campaigns. Therefore, they will presumably be in the mix at season’s end.
Other teams like the new-look Minnesota Timberwolves and Oklahoma City Thunder could eventually emerge as viable contenders, given their on-paper talent.
However, it appears as though the Rockets are focused in on competing with one team in particular.
As expected, it’s the Warriors, who eliminated the Rockets from the playoffs in 2015 and 2016.
"It's the only thing we think about," Rockets general manager Daryl Morey said on ESPN Radio's The Ryen Russillo Show on Thursday. "I think I'm not supposed to say that, but we're basically obsessed with 'How do we beat the Warriors?’"
He explained, ”Last year, the Spurs knocked us off, so we're very worried about the Spurs. They're always one step ahead of every organization and guard us better than anyone. But we calculated it -- it's like 90 percent if we're gonna win a title, we've gotta obviously beat the Warriors at some point. So we're extremely focused on that. A lot of our signings and what we do during the year is based on that."
In the offseason, the Rockets famously traded most of their team’s role players to the Los Angeles Clippers in exchange for point guard Chris Paul.
Finishing the regular season with the one-seed would mean nothing to Houston if it meant eventually falling to Golden State yet again.
"I don't know why you'd do anything else," Morey told ESPN. "Like, what is the point of this league except winning a title? So we'd love to get the 1-seed, we'd love to win more games than any in Rockets history, which is 58. Those are all nice things, but frankly, we spend most of our time just figuring out how we might just knock the Warriors out in seven games. Because we're pretty sure that's what's going to define our season.”
Judging by those words, it seems possible that Houston could still make a roster move or two before the end of the season. After all, the ultimate goal is to dethrone Golden State.