Warriors Rockets
Draymond Green of the Golden State Warriors defends James Harden of the Houston Rockets during their NBA game at ORACLE Arena on Oct. 17, 2017 in Oakland, California. Ezra Shaw/Getty Images

With each passing game, the Houston Rockets (47-13) are looking more and more like a real threat to keep the Golden State Warriors (47-14) from reaching the 2018 NBA Finals. The regular season is nearly three-quarters of the way complete, and James Harden and Chris Paul are still ahead of the defending champs atop the NBA standings.

Both Houston and Golden State were victorious Monday night, keeping them separated by a half-game for the No.1 seed in the Western Conference. For the Rockets, it marked their 13th straight win as they defeated the Utah Jazz 96-85. The Warriors took care of the New York Knicks 125-111, outscoring their opponents by 21 points in the third quarter.

Golden State’s 82-game record won’t matter much once the postseason begins. They’ll be the heavy championship favorites at the start of the playoffs, regardless of how many wins or losses they might have, and with good reason.

The Warriors have won two of the last three titles and reached the NBA Finals in each of those seasons. Golden State had the most dominant postseason in history last year, going 16-1 in Kevin Durant’s first season with the team. Two of their starters (Durant and Stephen Curry) are unquestionably top-five players in the league, and two other starters (Klay Thompson and Draymond Green) are perennial All-Stars and future Hall of Famers.

This Rockets’ team has yet to prove themselves in the postseason, but they are doing their best to convince the rest of the league that the 2018 champion hasn’t been predetermined.

The first step in giving themselves a chance to upset Golden State could come with earning home-court advantage throughout the playoffs. Neither team has been noticeably more dominant at home compared to when they play on the road, though having to play one less game at Oracle Arena in a seven-game series could make a considerable difference.

Since the start of the 2015-2016 season, Golden State has lost just 14 times at home during the regular season. The Warriors went undefeated at Oracle Arena in last year’s playoffs, outscoring their opponents by an average of 16.9 points per game. Golden State has been the NBA's No.1 seed in each of the last three years.

Houston hasn’t lost at home in nearly two months. That defeat came at the hands of the Warriors on Jan. 4 when Harden was forced to sit with an injury.

With Harden, Paul and Clint Capela in the lineup, the Rockets have gone 30-1. Houston is 2-0 against Golden State when all three players are healthy.

Harden is the clear frontrunner to be named the NBA MVP after finishing as the runner-up in two of the last three years. He leads the league with 31.4 points per game and ranks third with an average of 8.9 assists per contest.

The question, of course, is whether or not the shooting guard can keep it up when it matters most. Harden has had some infamous playoff stinkers, including Game 6 of last year’s conference semifinals when he scored just 10 points as the Rockets were eliminated from the playoffs with a 39-point loss at home.

Paul has had his share of playoff failures, as well. The veteran already has a resume that’s better than most point guards that have ever put on an NBA uniform, but he’s never reached the conference finals in 12 seasons.

Then, there’s head coach Mike D’Antoni, who has 510 career wins and no trips to the NBA Finals. He’s either won at least 55 games or finished second in the West five times. In none of those seasons did his team even made it to a Game 7 in the West Finals.

Anything less than reaching the conference finals would have to be considered a failure for Houston. The No.3 seed Minnesota Timberwolves (38-26) and No.4 seed San Antonio Spurs (36-25) both trail the Rockets by at least 11 games in the standings.