Charlotte Hornets center Dwight Howard told ESPN's Get Up! crew on Tuesday morning that he believes the Houston Rockets' loss to the Golden State Warriors in the 2015 Western Conference Finals, when he was teammates with James Harden, has served as the motivation for the star point guard in recent years.
"We played them in the Western Conference Finals a couple years ago. I think that lit a fire under James," Howard said. "He was very upset at how that season ended. He came back the season after that, he's gotten better every single year. So I think because of him alone they've got a chance."
Howard also cited the addition of Chris Paul and Houston's overall depth as reasons the team could knock off the Warriors. Of course, the Rockets still need to get past the Utah Jazz and the Warriors past the New Orleans Pelicans, though both teams hold a commanding 3-1 lead in their respective series.
As for the 2015 Western Conference Finals, the Warriors beat the Rockets in five games, and while both Howard (14.4 PPG, 14.4 RPG, 1.8 APG) and Harden (28.4 PPG, 7.8 RPG, 6.4 APG) put up decent stats in that series, it wasn't enough to slow down the Warriors, who would go on to win the first title in their current run of dominance.
The Rockets lost in five games to the Warriors again the next season in the first round, and Howard was gone after that, signing with the Atlanta Hawks before the 2016-17 campaign. He spent just one season in Atlanta before being traded to Charlotte this offseason, as the Hawks began a full-scale rebuild after Paul Millsap and Tim Hardaway Jr. departed in free agency.
As for this season, the Rockets won the season series against Golden State, 2-1, and finished with the best record in the NBA (65-17), though as the postseason often reminds us, the regular season means little to nothing.
But Howard, for what it's worth, believes the Rockets are up to the task.
"I would just say for James (Harden) and his crew, this is their moment," he said on Get Up! "I don't know if I can watch them win a championship, but this is their moment. They've been playing great all year. Chris Paul, James, Clint Capela has had an amazing year. That whole team. Trevor (Ariza). You've got Joe Johnson. You've got Mike D'Antoni. I'm happy for him.
"It's going to be a tough, tough series, but I think if they play 48 minutes every night, they can win."