The Golden State Warriors have officially been unseated as the best team in the Western Conference.
At least for the regular season.
Houston (61-14) is now seven games up on the No. 2 seed with seven games remaining.
The Warriors had the best record in the Western Conference each of the previous three seasons but will instead be the No. 2 seed this year. Golden State and Houston spent most of the year battling for the top spot until injuries caused the former's performance to taper off in March.
The Warriors, who have been without Steph Curry, Kevin Durant, Draymond Green and Klay Thompson for stretches both individually and as a unit, just welcomed Durant and Green back to the lineup Thursday. Curry will be out through at least the first round of the playoffs, while Thompson is due to return within the next week.
Even if all four Warriors All-Stars were healthy, though, it would have been hard to catch Houston. The Rockets' effort has been led by the most efficient offense in the league, with James Harden finally on the precipice of winning his elusive MVP. Harden is leading the NBA in scoring (30.7 ppg) and adding 8.7 assists and 5.4 rebounds per night.
Chris Paul has been a welcome addition, with him and Harden showing no signs of the chemistry issues some feared when he was acquired last offseason. Paul is averaging the second-fewest assists (8.0 per game) of his career but has shot threes at a more regular clip and seemingly enjoyed working away from the ball.
With a defense that also ranks top 10 in efficiency, Houston is the most formidable two-way opponent the Warriors have seen during their reign atop the conference.
"We're confident because we know if we're doing what we're supposed to do, we're going to beat them," Clint Capela told ESPN's Tim MacMahon in January. "We've got to keep playing. We know that they're going to come back if we have the lead, and we've just got to keep that mindset. Sometimes I feel like, in the past, we were all dragging down after mistakes. But today, we were ready. I think that if we're doing what we're supposed to do on defense—all the switches, the weak side—and keep playing our offense by keeping that mentality all game long, we have the weapons to beat them.
"We are better than them."
At least for the regular season, Capela has been proven correct.