Given the unrelenting dominance of their championship reign, the Golden State Warriors were undoubtedly prepared for what was to come when their interpersonal drama was laid bare for all the world to witness on Monday night against the Los Angeles Clippers at Staples Center.
After Warriors forwards Draymond Green and Kevin Durant exchanged words between the end of regulation and the start of overtime, published reports revealed that additional conflict unfolded in the postgame locker room. When Green was suspended for conduct detrimental to the team on Tuesday, missing the Warriors' 110-103 win over the Atlanta Hawks, what followed was a series of queries that left Durant intently trying to steer the postgame press conference.
"We just had a game," Durant said after being peppered with questions about Green. "Anybody going to talk about the game?"
That the Warriors showed championship mettle despite being "emotionally spent" as described by coach Steve Kerr came as no surprise. The Warriors were not only without Green, but they also continue to play without guard Stephen Curry (left adductor strain). Green should return to their lineup when the Warriors (12-3) visit the Houston Rockets (6-7) on Thursday night at Toyota Center, site of their Game 7 victory in the Western Conference Finals last postseason.
Under normal circumstances, a rematch between league titans would dominate the headlines. But with the Warriors showing even the slightest amount of fraying in their team fabric, it stands to reason that the dialogue would shift to how they move beyond the conflict.
"Once the ball is tipped, nothing else matters," Durant said. "And I think that's the approach that everybody takes every time they step on the floor.
"What happened, happened. We're trying to move on and just trying to play basketball."
The Rockets are dealing with their own controversy, with forward Carmelo Anthony away from the team as the sides attempt to reach an understanding regarding his role moving forward. Anthony missed his third consecutive game on Tuesday with what the team is calling an "illness." The Rockets won for a second time in his absence, defeating the Denver Nuggets 109-99 at Pepsi Center while resembling the team that challenged the Warriors last season.
Before the Anthony imbroglio, the Rockets' lethargic play to open this season had been a talking point. But after handling the Indiana Pacers at home on Sunday, the Rockets showed additional signs of recovery in handing the Nuggets their fourth consecutive loss. Defensively, the Rockets reclaimed their identity a few weeks ago. Their rebound on offense is more recent.
After making a season-high 20 3-pointers against the Pacers, the Rockets shot 54.9 percent in Denver, including converting a robust 26 of 34 on shots inside the 3-point arc.
"It's getting there," Rockets guard James Harden said of the team's confidence. "It's going to take time, but it's getting there. If we keep guarding and defending at a high level like we're doing, our offense is going to come around.
"I think that happened in the San Antonio game (last Saturday). Even though we didn't win I think defensively we played really well. We just didn't make shots. We kind of carried that over ... and (Tuesday) was a complete game. So, we've got to carry this over to Thursday."