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If it’s almost spring, it must be time to panic about the Golden State Warriors.

That’s what we all did last year at this time, when on March 11, 2017, the Dubs dropped their fifth game in seven tries, lost control of the West’s top seed and faced a stretch run without Kevin Durant, who’d gone down with a scary knee injury just 11 days earlier.

It was bleak, and that’s easy to forget in light of the ensuing postseason sprint that resulted in a title.

This time around, though, the causes for concern are deeper—rooted internally and encroaching from the outside as well. And this time, it’s Stephen Curry who’s ailing.

That’s why the road ahead, perhaps to a third championship in four years, looks rougher than it ever has.


The New Challenger

HOUSTON, TX - JANUARY 20:  Chris Paul #3 of the Houston Rockets and James Harden #13 against the Golden State Warriors at Toyota Center on January 20, 2018 in Houston, Texas. NOTE TO USER: User expressly acknowledges and agrees that, by downloading and or

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The Houston Rockets are the best team the Steve Kerr-era Warriors has ever seen.

On the season, Houston’s net rating and offensive rating are both better than Golden State’s, per Cleaning the Glass, which filters out garbage time and end-of-quarter heaves from its per-possession stats. On defense, the Rockets and Warriors are equals.

Dig a little more and you’ll note that in three of the ever-important four factors, Houston also has the edge, per CTG. While the Warriors top the Rockets in both effective field-goal percentage and effective field-goal percentage allowed, Houston wins the other six categories. The Rockets commit fewer turnovers (while causing more), get to the line more often (while fouling opposing shooters less) and perform better on the offensive glass (while besting the Dubs on the defensive boards as well). The statistical advantages are striking, and they’ve manifested themselves in the much more reductive realm of wins and losses.

Houston, now looking like a lock to hold down the West’s top playoff seed, is 2-1 against the Warriors. The Rockets are decidedly not scared.

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