The Houston Rockets boast an NBA-best 25-5 record and have the league’s top offense based on offensive efficiency, but general manager Daryl Morey said those achievements aren’t especially important to him.
Foremost in Morey’s mind: beating the Golden State Warriors, who have won the Western Conference title the past three seasons, including two NBA championships, and eliminated the Rockets from the playoffs in 2015 and ’16.
“It’s the only thing we think about,” 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?’
“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.”
Morey is regarded as one of the NBA’s leading proponents of analytics and co-founded the MIT Sloan Sports Analytics Conference in 2007, one year after the Rockets hired him to run the team’s basketball operations.
With Morey as the team’s architect, the James Harden and Chris Paul-led Rockets have scored 115.3 points per game, second in the NBA to the Warriors, but they are No. 1 in offensive efficiency at 113.7, just ahead of the Warriors at 113.4.
Few teams can hang with the Warriors in 3-point shooting, but the Rockets might not be far behind. Though Golden State leads the NBA in 3-point shooting percentage (.398), the Rockets’ offense is tops in both made 3-pointers (16.0) and 3-point attempts per game (43.2).
Houston’s defense also ranks seventh in the NBA in defensive efficiency.
Morey said his obsession with beating the Warriors boils down to the fact that winning a championship is the primary objective in the NBA. And in order to win a title, the Rockets will probably have to get past Golden State.
The Warriors eliminated the Rockets from the playoffs in the 2015 conference finals and again in the first round the following year. Houston lost to the Spurs in six games in last season’s conference semifinals.
“I don’t know why you’d do anything else,” Morey told The Ryen Russillo Show. “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.”