OAKLAND, Calif. – A big smile broke out on Clint Capela's face as he was asked a question about the meaning of the Houston Rockets' clinching the regular-season series against the Golden State Warriors.
Capela intentionally wasn't nearly as bold as he was under similar circumstances last season, when he declared to ESPN that the Rockets were the better team. He settled with expressing confidence without uttering any words that could end up on bulletin boards in the two-time defending champions' locker room.
"We have a team that has a lot of potential," Capela said after the Rockets pulled off at 118-112 win on Saturday at Oracle Arena, despite rising MVP James Harden's absence due to fluent symptoms and a cervical strain in his neck. Rockets guard James Harden was $ 25,000, the NBA announced Saturday, for publicly criticizing referee Scott Foster following Houston's loss to the Lakers on Thursday.
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"Obviously, it's just the regular season. I'm not going to get fired up like last year. I'm just going to stay focused on one game at a time and thinking about the playoffs because we all know the playoffs it's a different atmosphere. "
The Rockets have won all three meetings with the Warriors this season. The first time to go to Oracle Arena and without hardening on this occasion they will have a chance to complete the regular-season sweep in Houston in March 13.
games in last season's Western Conference semifinals, resulting in many within the Rockets organization referring to being "a hamstring away from the championship," after the Rockets built a 3-2 series lead before Paul went down with a strained hamstring.
The Rockets have every right to believe they can beat the Warriors in a playoff series. Yet they are well aware that means nothing unless they prove it in the postseason.
"I truly believe that we are their toughest opponent," said guard Eric Gordon , who led the Rockets with 25 points. "We've got to continue playing, trying to be a championship team. They know who they are. This is another game for them, but this is a special night for us." a 15-0 lead, pouncing on a Golden State team that was perhaps lulled to sleep with Harden remaining at the team hotel. Houston's lead ballooned to as many as 20 points, and the Rockets withstood a Warriors rally before closing out the game, guided by the steady hand of Paul, who finished with 23 points and a season-high 17 assists.
But there was a subdued mood, not a celebration, in the visitors' locker room. It has been a rocky season for the Rockets, who entered the season with a championship-or-bust mentality, only to make themselves a huge hole with a slow start.
Houston (34-25, fifth in the West) has too much work left to do too excited about a win over the warriors, even without hardening, whose historic streak of 32 consecutive 30-plus-point performances was put on hold.
"Don't make too much of it "It's a good win," Rockets coach Mike D'Antoni said. "We played well. They didn't play as well. Especially in the first half, they didn't play very well. They might not have seen Harden and gone," Oh. " Sometimes you have a letdown, but all we know is we go to the next one. "The Rockets' regular-season success against the Warriors means" nothing, "according to Paul.
] "You can come here and win on Monday night in February or Tuesday night in November or December, but when you got to beat a team four out of seven times," said Paul. "It's great we won tonight, but in two days, you'll forget this. We all will."