HOUSTON — The Warriors are in the unfamiliar position of opening on the road as they prepare for Game 1 of the Western Conference final with the top-seeded Rockets in Houston tonight in the series that many have been waiting for all season.
It’s the first time the Warriors, as a No. 2 seed, have been in a playoff series without home-court advantage since 2014 when they lost to the Los Angeles Clippers 4-3 in the first round. For a team that has matched the Chicago Bulls’ NBA record with 15 consecutive home playoff victories, the feeling is a bit unsettling.
“It’s different,” coach Steve Kerr said. “I think our guys, they are taking the challenge and they’re embracing it. They feel like, ‘OK, we don’t have home court for the first time,’ but we seem to be at our best when we are threatened. That’s been kind of the M.O. of this team. We’re definitely threatened. We’re on the road for Game 1, we’ve never felt that.”
The Rockets, who earned the top seed for the first time in franchise history by winning 65 games in the regular season, are certainly happy to be opening at home, but aren’t sure if it’s that much of an advantage in this series.
“It’s better to have it than not … it’s important but they’ve shown they can win away from home, we can win away from home,” coach Mike D’Antoni said.
“This might be a series where you lose one or two and then win four in a row — either side. Because they’re capable of it.”
This will be the third playoff meeting between these two teams in the past four years, with the Warriors winning both previous meetings. They downed the Rockets 4-1 in 2015 in Houston’s previous trip to a conference final and ousted the team from the playoffs in the first round in 2016.
The defending champion Warriors are looking to reach the NBA Finals for the fourth consecutive year. For the Rockets, a win in this series would put them in the Finals for the first since 1995 when they won the second of their back-to-back titles.
D’Antoni was asked if he thinks the Warriors have seen a team as talented and dangerous as the Rockets are this season.
“I hope not,” he said. “We did win 65. They’re the ones always winning and getting home-court advantage so hopefully we gained a little ground.”
However, he knows that his team is the perceived underdog in this series despite nabbing the top seed because of what the Warriors have done over the past few years.
“These guys are champions for a reason and they’ve shown on the big stage that they can perform at a very, very, very high level — as good as anybody ever,” he said. “And we haven’t shown that yet and that’s the doubt in most people’s minds, until you show it they don’t know … so we’ve just got to beat them and show them we can do it.”
Some things to know about the Warriors-Rockets series.
Stephen Curry certainly feels back to his spot-on self with the swagger that goes with those dazzling drives and way-back 3-pointers.