Rockets’ Plan to Beat Warriors: Shoot Lots of 3’s

james-harden-three-pointerAs it stands right now, nobody in the Western Conference is expected to beat the Golden State Warriors. In fact, as you can see in our NBA futures, the Warriors are a -450 favorite to win the West.

But one of the few teams that could give Golden State (50-9) a scare is the Houston Rockets (42-19), who are basing their fortunes on three-pointers.

As of now, the Rockets rank second in the league in points (115.0) behind the Warriors (118.2). They also average 40.4 three-point attempts per game, which easily leads the league over the second-place Cleveland Cavaliers (33.7), and is on pace for an NBA record. So it’s little surprise that Houston GM Darryl Morey thinks the team’s hopes of beating Golden State hinge on the three.

“We want to win the title, and obviously that’s probably going through the Warriors at some point,” Morey said on SiriusXM NBA. “And we absolutely figured the only way we’re gonna beat ‘em is with a barrage of 3-pointers and it’s probably going to be a 124-120 affair if we’re going to get past them.”

It’s often said that jump-shooting teams can’t win a championship, which Golden State disproved with their 2015 title, and nearly did again last season. In this new era, nobody is more equipped to take down the Warriors than Houston and their stable of outside shooters.

When the Rockets defeated Golden State 132-127 in double overtime on Jan. 1, they made 14-of-41 three’s, versus the Warriors’ 12-of-44 shooting. Neither of these are great percentages, but the extra six points that Houston got from long range proved to be the difference.

What’s particularly tough about the Rockets is that most of their rotation players are outside threats, from point guard to power forward:

– Point guard James Harden takes 9.3 three’s per game and makes 34.9%.
– Shooting guard Eric Gordon attempts 9.2 three’s a game and makes 38.1%.
– Backup shooting guard Lou Williams takes 9.3 three’s per game and hits 50.0%.
– Small forward Trevor Ariza takes 7.1 three’s per game and makes 34.9%.
– Power forward Ryan Anderson attempts 6.9 three’s a game and makes 40.1%.
– Backup point guard Patrick Beverly shoots 4.3 three’s per game and hits 38.0%.
– Backup forward Sam Dekker attempts 2.7 three’s a game and makes 33.1%.

Center Clint Capela is the only Houston player who averages heavy minutes and doesn’t shoot from distance. But beyond him, every other Rocket in the top eight of minutes played must be accounted for beyond the arc.

Recently brought over from the Los Angeles Lakers, Williams is a new addition who fits in nicely with Houston’s shoot-heavy approach.

“We wanted to make sure our spacing was clean throughout the whole game, that we always had shooters in the game,” Morey explained. “And Lou gives us that. So now in our rotation, every player on the floor except for obviously the 5 is able to shoot the 3-point shot well and attack the basket well.”

Up until this season, one of the Warriors’ biggest advantages had been their large number of players who can handle the ball and play multiple positions. But thanks to the Rockets’ ability to shoot the three from so many different spots, they can match up with Golden State as well as anybody.

The last chance that we’ll get to see regarding how these teams fare against other is on March 28. From there, it’ll be up to fate to decide if the Warriors and Rockets meet in the postseason. Golden State seems locked into the one seed, while Houston firmly holds the No. 3 spot. This means that both teams would meet in the Western Conference Finals if it happens.

Assuming the basketball gods do pair the Rockets and Golden State in the postseason, all of the lines will have the Warriors heavily favored. Furthermore, the experts might only pick Houston to win a game or two. However, based on what we’ve talked about regarding the Rockets’ three-pint shooting acumen, don’t be surprised if Houston can give the Warriors a run. But they’ll have to make it there first…