A lot has changed since the Golden State Warriors traveled to Houston for their first meeting with the Rockets on Feb. 5.
At the time, Golden State sat 13 games above .500 and in the No. 5 spot in the Western Conference standings. The Rockets were in the No. 8 spot, four games back with Denver and Utah separating them from the Warriors.
Then Houston sank an NBA single-game record-tying 23 three-pointers in a 140-109 win against Golden State and the standings haven't looked the same since. The loss dropped Golden State behind Denver and marked the beginning of a six-game losing streak and a stretch in which the Warriors have gone just 7-13.
Sunday's return trip to Houston could again cost the Warriors (37-30) a spot in standings, except this time it's Houston (36-30) in line to make the jump. The Rockets have taken all three games from Golden State this year with wins in Oakland coming since the Feb. 5 shooting clinic.
At this point, the Warriors are confident there won't be any surprises from Houston.
“Yeah, but at the end of the day it’s about us," forward Carl Landry said. "I think when we lose, sometimes we beat ourselves. We’re a good enough basketball team where we don’t have to worry about other teams as much as we worry about ourselves.”
In a word, Golden State's 113-95 loss to Chicago on Friday was embarrassing. An admitted lack of effort plagued the Warriors in the final game of their season-long seven-game home stand, but Landry said it's as simple as closing the book on it and moving forward.
“We have to. We have to look past it the best we can, and that’s the beautiful thing about the NBA," he said. "Houston is a team that came here and beat us, and we lost down there in Houston a couple weeks before that, so we have to be ready to go. That’s the thing: they’re fighting for a playoff spot as well.”
The difference between the No. 6 and No. 7 playoff seeds is about as big a difference as possible in the West. The No. 7 means a first-round series with either Oklahoma City or San Antonio, while the No. 6 would result in a series with the Clippers, Grizzlies or Nuggets. With no easy matchups, the potential for a first-round series with the Clippers seems like the easiest route to the second round.
Golden State has not won in Houston since 2007 and has dropped 17 of the last 19 to the Rockets. Houston ranks No. 1 in the NBA in points per game (106.9) and has been led by 26.4 points per game from all-star James Harden.