HOUSTON • The Rockets won their regular-season series over the Warriors after a 116-108 victory on Saturday and duly claimed that they were superior to the National Basketball Association (NBA) champions.
"We're confident because we know if we're doing what we're supposed to do, we're going to beat them," Houston centre Clint Capela told ESPN. "We are better than them."
The Rockets have been the better team in two of their three meetings with Golden State this season and now own the tiebreaker, which could determine the No. 1 seed and home court advantage when the play-offs begin in April.
Capela had 18 points while Chris Paul scored 33 and James Harden added 22 in his second game back from a hamstring injury as the Rockets ended Golden State's 14-game road winning streak.
Houston improved to 17-0 this season when Harden, Paul and Capela are all active.
The Rockets out-rebounded Golden State 46-33 at the Toyota Centre and led by as many as 17 points in the second quarter en route to the win in a marquee matchup of the NBA's two highest-scoring teams.
"Mentally, now we have a chance to go after the No. 1 seed," guard Eric Gordon added after the Rockets improved to 32-12 - 31/2 games behind the Warriors (37-10) for first place in the Western Conference standings and the league's best overall record.
The Warriors battled back to lead by as many as four in a fourth quarter that saw six lead changes, but were undone by 19 turnovers.
Forward Kevin Durant led the Warriors with 26 points and Draymond Green added 21 points with seven rebounds and six assists.
Stephen Curry connected on just six of 20 shots from the field en route to 19 points and Klay Thompson scored just eight points.
Durant insisted that the loss was not significant. The Rockets also claimed the season-opener 122-121 before Golden State won a rematch 124-114 earlier this month.
"The season starts over when you're in the play-offs anyway, so it doesn't matter," said the forward.
While the Warriors and the Rockets both fancy their chances of making a deep run in the play-offs, last season's finalists - the Cleveland Cavaliers - dare not look too far.
The Oklahoma City Thunder steamrolled Cleveland 148-124 on Saturday to drop the Cavaliers to 3-9 since Christmas Day.
The 148 points equalled the most the franchise has ever given up in a regular-season game.
The Cavaliers gave up at least 33 points in every quarter as Oklahoma City shot a scorching 58 per cent from the field. Thunder forward Paul George had a game-high 36 points.
"I've never in my basketball life gave up 148 points, not even probably playing video games," LeBron James, who scored 18 points, said.
"They got everything that they wanted. Inside, outside - they had it moving...
"Play-offs? We can't even start thinking about that, not the way we're playing right now. We could easily get bounced early in the playoffs if they started next weekend."
Their struggles have sent the rumour mill into high gear regarding the status of coach Tyronn Lue.
AGENCE FRANCE-PRESSE, REUTERS