The Houston Rockets pushed the Golden State Warriors to the brink last season, forcing them to seven games in the Western Conference Finals before the Warriors prevailed and eventually won their third NBA title in the past four years.
But if you ask the Warriors who they believe is their greatest threat this season, only Steph Curry listed the Rockets, according to Sam Amick of The Athletic. The other players he asked—Draymond Green, Shaun Livingston and Kevin Durant—all listed the Boston Celtics.
Green broke down his answer, focusing heavily on the presence of Kyrie Irving:
"I just think with the tools that they have, and the way the game is set up today, with small-ball and all that stuff, (center) Al Horford can switch onto guards. That would be their five in that lineup. And then obviously, you've got Jayson Tatum, Jaylen Brown, Gordon Hayward, Kyrie (Irving), Terry Rozier, Marcus Smart, Marcus Morris. They've got a lot of guys who fit right into that style of play, with the experience of playing with Kyrie, who isn't backing down from anyone.
"Kyrie has been there and done that, and he's going to embody that (spirit). Kyrie is going to love that moment, to love being that guy that has been there and showing everyone else the way. And I think that's what makes them a threat is that (reality that), yeah they have all the pieces, but Kyrie has the experience and I think that’s what makes them great."
Durant concurred on Boston:
"They've got a deep team. They've got a collection of talented scorers where it's going to be hard to switch guys on. They've got a big man (in Horford) who can facilitate like Draymond. They've got a great coach (in Brad Stevens), a great atmosphere, a great home court advantage, and they've got a lot of length. Those are usually the teams that give us trouble."
While neither Green, Durant or Livingston were willing to dismiss Houston as a contender or threat, only Curry felt the Rockets still remained the biggest potential roadblock for the Warriors.
"I mean (you) understand with Houston, what they bring to the table, and how difficult that series was last year," he told Amick. "They're a different team, but they still have James [Harden] and CP [Chris Paul]. You never know how that will shape up."
He continued: "(But) yeah, in terms of (top threats), yeah (it's Houston). They were right there with us in the West until Game 7, and we obviously know what kind of threat they pose."
While the Warriors players didn't get into any potential additions the Rockets could make during the season, ahead of February's trade deadline, the possibility remains that Houston could make a play for Minnesota Timberwolves wing Jimmy Butler. Adding another two-way threat of his caliber could potentially swing the calculus back in favor of the Rockets.
At the moment, however, Houston is struggling, limping to a 1-5 record to start the season, though Harden, the defending MVP, has missed the last two games to injury while Paul was suspended for two contests. The Celtics, meanwhile, are 5-2 and have one of the deepest rosters in the NBA, including the long and athletic wings who could give the Warriors issues in a seven-game series.
Of course, the real answer is that if the Warriors play to the best of their ability, there isn't an NBA team that will beat them four times in seven games. Yes, the Rockets pushed them to seven games last season, but that team lost Trevor Ariza and Luc Mbah a Moute, both key defensive stoppers on the wing, and is trying to integrate Carmelo Anthony into a system that isn't a natural fit for the veteran forward.
Meanwhile, the Warriors haven't even integrated DeMarcus Cousins into the fold, an All-Star talent who will give Golden State another elite offensive weapon once he returns from injury.
It's the Warriors' league, and the other 29 teams are just playing in it.
"We have appropriate fear for everybody," Curry said diplomatically, before getting to the truth. "If we play the way we're supposed to play, all of our answers should be 'nobody.'"