This current iteration of the Golden State Warriors might very well be the best team of all time. You’d be hard pressed to find a squad with a more successful four-year stretch in terms of wins and margin of victory, both in the regular season and playoffs, and that puts them on the short list if nothing else.
This season has seemed like a step back for the Dubs in a lot of ways — they’ve seen dips in wins (-9), offensive rating (-2.0), defensive rating (+3.7), and margin of victory (-5.65) this year compared to last — but that could very well be chalked up to fatigue after three straight Finals runs, or just plain boredom from being so much better than the vast majority of NBA teams.
The Houston Rockets, meanwhile, have been chugging along all year as the best version of themselves. They led the Association in wins (65), offensive rating (114.7), and margin of victory (8.48), and they have been sitting at the top of our nERD-based NBA team power rankings for a couple months now.
But even after a season of diminished returns, the Warriors are still the Goliath to every other team’s David. When you have been favored in every series over a four-year stretch and have won two of the last three titles (and were a chase-down block and a Kyrie Irving three-pointer away from going three for three), you get the benefit of the doubt, down year be damned.
That’s why Vegas still sides heavily with the Warriors in this series, despite the fact that this Rockets team has a claim to being Golden State’s toughest opponent of the last four years. Heading into tonight’s Game 1, Golden State is the favorite to win this series at -225, implied odds of 69.23%, according to Bovada.
Our algorithm, however, puts no stock in previous championships or mental hurdles. When it comes to the cold, hard numbers, we give Houston a slightly better chance of winning this series, with the odds-on scenario being Rockets in seven.
Houston having homecourt advantage in this series is a new wrinkle, considering it’s the first time in this four-year Warriors run that they’ve opened a series on the road. The Warriors come in with the clout of a champion, but the first two games and a potential Game 7 taking place away from Oracle Arena is not something they’ve had to face up to this point.
Throw in the fact that this Rockets team has the most wins (65) of any of Golden State’s previous postseason opponents and is the first to come into a series with better marks than the Dubs in both margin of victory (8.48 to 5.98) and offensive rating (114.7 to 113.6), and a Houston victory suddenly doesn’t seem quite so far-fetched.
The Warriors could have very well been playing possum all year, but if you consider the seasons of these two teams side by side and take away any bias based on previous success, then the Rockets could very well have the stones to take down the giant.
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