THE TEAM TO BEAT

HOUSTON -- It feels like a million years ago now -- especially in light of the Golden State Warriors' dominating 119-106 win over the Houston Rockets in Game 1 of these Western Conference finals on Monday night -- but there was a point late in the regular season when the Warriors were genuinely worried this group just might not be able to rediscover its groove when the time came.

 

"Yeah," general manager Bob Myers told ESPN after Monday's game. "Was I worried? My first thought was, 'Yes.' But my second thought was, 'Have they let us down yet?'"

Myers said he and head coach Steve Kerr talked about Golden State's sputtering finish to the regular season, when they lost 10 of their last 17 games, and decided, "'We have to give them the benefit of the doubt. They've earned that.'"

 

That was a month ago. Since then, the Warriors have locked in at a level Kerr compared to their first championship season, in 2015. The regular season was what they'd been telling us it was all along -- a prelude to the only part of the season that really matters to a team trying to advance to its fourth straight NBA Finals.

Why push so hard for home-court advantage in the regular season when you can steal it back in 48 minutes like the Warriors did Monday night?

 

"It's the best time of year. Playing for all the marbles, we're trying to win a championship; there's no reason not to lock in," Warriors All-Star Draymond Green told ESPN. "The further you get along, the better it gets."

And how does that compare to the regular season?

 

"Felt like an eternity," Green said with a smirk. "A f--ing eternity."

 

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