The general manager of the Houston Rockets has declared his squad the team to beat in the Western Conference.
"We're favorites," Daryl Morey told the Houston Chronicle's Jonathan Feigen, before adding some caveats. "But as usual, there is some very tough competition: (the) Clippers, Lakers, Utah. Then I'd say people are probably underrating Golden State still. We have a healthy respect for them. But we go in shooting for the No. 1 seed."
Morey spent much of the last five years being "obsessed" with dethroning the Warriors, coming up short against them three times in the playoffs - twice in the Western Conference finals, and once during the first round.
Despite uncertainty about putting the ball-dominant Westbrook and James Harden in the same backcourt, Morey is preaching continuity.
"I think we have great continuity because I think we're returning more minutes than most teams in the league, but also the familiarity of all the players," he said. "You get players of similar age like Russ and James and Eric (Gordon) in particular, they've known each other since they were very young."
Head coach Mike D'Antoni dealt with duplication issues between Harden and Paul by staggering their minutes. That strategy was especially effective in 2017-18 when Houston won a league-best 65 games.
While the new dynamic with Westbrook will call for that at times too, Morey said D'Antoni plans to unleash the guard in transition - speeding up the Rockets' pace after two seasons of isolation-heavy basketball.
"I think we're going to get back to transition being more of a weapon for us," he said. "That was something Mike did very well his first year for us. Mostly because we were an elite half-court team, we got away from it. With a weapon like Russell in transition, you have to use it."
The Rockets ranked third in pace during D'Antoni's first season coaching the team in 2016-17. That dropped to 13th the next season, and 26th last year.