HOUSTON — Pat Beverley looks a little like famed boxing promoter Don King in his younger years, what with the semi-spiky hair and unending swagger.
After the Houston Rockets survived the Oklahoma City Thunder 118-116 at the Toyota Center in Thursday night’s MVP showdown, with James Harden (26 points, 12 assists, eight rebounds, six turnovers) and Russell Westbrook (49 points, five assists, eight rebounds, five turnovers) delivering while their supporting casts played a pivotal part, Beverley sounded a whole lot like King too. Seriously, the NBA ought to pay him extra for this kind of publicity.
The popcorn from this latest face-off wasn’t even stale yet when Beverley started setting the stage for what’s next. Beverley, who is always one of the league’s more candid personalities, had already mentioned the notion of the Rockets (28-9) being good enough to be the league’s best team when a question came his way about the Golden State Warriors (league-best 31-5) and San Antonio Spurs (29-7). Cue the hype man.
"We beat them," Beverley said frankly before pausing ever so briefly. "We beat them. We beat them in their place. Not trying to — like I always say — not trying to be cocky or nothing like that, I just feel like we’re one of the best teams also in the NBA, and I have facts to prove it.
"Like, we beat the top teams in their place. But at the same time, we want to continue getting better, continue doing the little things and continue to improve."
He’s right about this much: Facts are facts, and it can’t be a coincidence that the Rockets are now 17-2 since beating the Warriors in double overtime in Oakland on Dec. 1 in their first of four eventual meetings. They’ve downed the Spurs in San Antonio, too, winning 101-99 on Nov. 9 while also falling to them twice (106-100 on Nov. 12 and 102-100 on Dec. 20, both in Houston).
The Rockets don’t see the Spurs again until March 6, but the Warriors come to town on Jan. 20 in a game that suddenly looks every bit as intriguing as this Thunder affair. For all the focus on the Warriors-Cavaliers rivalry that is the product of their back-to-back NBA Finals face-offs, it’s quite clear that this Rockets-Warriors rivalry that had dissipated because of the one-sided nature of it is well on its way to being back. From conference finals foes in 2015 during the Warriors’ championship run to these kinds of full-circle face-offs that are only possible because Houston has righted itself again under first-year coach Mike D'Antoni, this is as welcome a development as we could have asked for in the West.
"Since D’Antoni got hired (in May)," Beverley said when asked when the Rockets started truly believing they could contend for a title. "The first couple workouts, you know, there was just a swagger, how he carries himself, how he instilled the confidence in us that we can go out there and beat every team. We can go out there and beat anybody, and we believe it. That’s what we’re trying to do."