The Golden State Warriors are in the unfamiliar position of opening on the road as they prepare for Game 1 of the Western Conference finals with the top-seeded Rockets in Houston on Monday night in the series that many have been waiting for all season.
It’s the first time the No. 2 Warriors have been in a playoff series without home-court advantage since 2014 when they lost to the Los Angeles Clippers 4-3 in the opening round.
For a team that has matched the Chicago Bulls’ NBA record with 15 straight home playoff victories Mike McGlinchey Jersey , 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 the conference finals 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 straight year. For the Rockets Youth Vinny Curry Jersey , 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.
Curry returned from nearly six months sidelined with a sprained left knee to play the final four games of a five-game semifinal series against New Orleans. The two-time MVP scored 28 points on 10-for-16 shooting in his most minutes yet since the March 23 injury – 37 – in the Game 5 clincher last Tuesday night.
His minutes have increased each game he plays and he was 32 for 67 with 15 3s in the Pelicans series.
While the spotlight for Houston in this series is certainly MVP front-runner James Harden and fellow point guard Chris Paul, the Rockets insist that center Clint Capela is just as important to their success.
”Everybody always wants to point out me and James, but he’s the X-factor,” Paul said.
Houston is 50-5 this season in games where all three have played, and during the regular season the Rockets outscored their opponents in those games by an average of 11.5 points.
D’Antoni believes the 6-foot-10 Capela’s ability to switch on guards as well as defend in the paint will be a key in this series.
”It’s a must that you have to have (someone like him) against Golden State or they’re going to get you,” he said.
”This will help. They’re still going to get us to a certain degree, but hopefully we can lessen it more than if we just had a traditional center that can’t guard on the perimeter.”
THE CHAMPS ARE THE CHAMPS
Sure Youth Ronald Jones II Jersey , the Warriors might not be the top dogs in the West from the regular season.
They still have the hardware.
Paul has never reached a conference final and neither James Harden nor D’Antoni has a championship either. Kevin Durant captured his first title last season while winning Finals MVP honors.
Golden State’s other three All-Stars – Curry, Draymond Green and Klay Thompson – has a pair of championships from the past three seasons.
”I like where we are,” Kerr said. ”Our guys have rings. That’s a good position to be in. To me the hardest championship is the first one, as an individual player or 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’ve got a couple championships here t It would be a bit disingenuous to say the fate of the Kansas City Chiefs this season rests on the strong right arm of Patrick Mahomes II considering the second-year pro has started all of one NFL game.
Still, that's how most people view the Chiefs as they report to training camp.
Yet the reality is there are a number of question marks as the club packs its trucks and makes the hour-long drive north to Missouri Western State University.
Mahomes may be the biggest, but the way these questions sort out will ultimately determine whether a franchise that went to the playoffs four times in five years under quarterback Alex Smith can win a third straight AFC West title.
There are holes everywhere on defense. There is a new offensive coordinator and a few new assistant coaches. There is a leadership and experience void after the departure of longtime linebackers Tamba Hali and Derrick Johnson. And some crucial players are coming off major injuries.
In short, the Chiefs could be very good this season. Or they could be very bad.
Good luck trying to peg where they end up.
"We have a lot of new faces and we welcome new faces," Chiefs coach Andy Reid conceded, "but they're learning and they've got great energy."
As the Chiefs' rookies, quarterbacks and selected veterans report to camp on Sunday http://www.billsauthorizedshops.com/authentic-tremaine-edmunds-jersey , here are some of the crucial story lines to watch throughout August and into September:
MAHOMES THE MAN: The team turns to the former Texas Tech star after Smith was traded to Washington this past offseason. The Chiefs traded up to select him 10th overall then gave him a redshirt season to learn the ropes, only to watch him dazzle in a Week 17 win at Denver when Smith and most of the starters got the weekend off.
The Chiefs have tried to help him out. They signed Sammy Watkins to pair with speedster Tyreek Hill in a potentially lethal wide receiver combo, and tight end Travis Kelce and running back Kareem Hunt give Kansas City perhaps the most talented skill position group in the league.
"Me and Patrick have a great bond. I feel like he is going to do great," said Hunt, the NFL rushing champion as a rookie last season. "He definitely already has a leader role and he is just able to go out there and make big plays. I am excited to see him get out there."
CORNERBACK COMPETITION: The Chiefs traded talented malcontent Marcus Peters to the Rams, hoping the improved locker-room atmosphere would offset the loss of a skilled playmaker. Now, the Chiefs will have to find two new starting cornerbacks after also releasing veteran Terrance Mitchell.
Kendall Fuller came over in the Smith trade and is the front-runner for one job, and Steven Nelson is the leading candidate at the other, provided he can stay healthy. But keep an eye on Raiders castoff David Amerson, former third-round pick Will Redmond and rookies Tremon Smith and Arrion Springs.
Smith was the Chiefs' sixth-round pick out of Central Arkansas while Springs impressed during the team's voluntary summer workouts as an undrafted free agent out of Oregon.
INJURY ISLAND: The Chiefs will rely heavily on Eric Berry to lead this season, but they also need him to perform at a Pro Bowl level again after tearing his Achilles tendon in last season's opener.
Wide receiver Chris Conley will likewise be counted upon after a season-ending injury in Week 5.
NEW VOICES: Eric Bieniemy was promoted to offensive coordinator after Matt Nagy took the top job in Chicago, which means Mahomes will have a new voice in his ear. And a loud one, too. There are few coaches that have the ability to bark quite like the former NFL running back.
The Chiefs also have a new quarterbacks coach in Mike Kafka and decided to split the linebackers job between outside coach Mike Smith and inside coach Mark DeLeone.
OTHER JOBS: Backup jobs on offense are wide open: Jace Amaro and Tim Wright will compete for tight end time Ty Montgomery Jersey Elite , Spencer Ware and Damien Williams are fighting for time behind Hunt, and DeMarcus Robinson, Jehu Chesson, De'Anthony Thomas and undrafted rookie Byron Pringle are in the mix at wide receiver.
On defense, Derrick Nnandi and Xavier Williams are trying to replace Bennie Logan at nose tackle, and rookie Breeland Speaks should push Allen Bailey for the starting defensive end job.
In the defensive backfield, keep an eye on rookies Armani Watts and Dorian O'Daniel as they compete for the starting free safety job. Roster holdover Leon McQuay could also be in the mix.
"This organization is full of winners," defensive end Chris Jones said. "Everybody is eager to win and they are going to take the necessary steps to put the pieces together."