Preview: Golden State Warriors vs. Houston Rockets. BIG. GAME.

USA TODAY Sports

Golden State Warriors (35-27) vs. Houston Rockets (33-29)
Tip-Off: 7:30PM PST
Where: Oracle Arena
TV: ESPN / CSN Bay Area | Radio: KNBR 680
Blog Buddy: The Dream Shake

Fans tend to blow the importance of some games way out of proportion, with bombastic proclamations of "must win" and "biggest game of the season". Y'know, fans get worked up about their teams.

Anyway, about tonight's game against the Houston Rockets?

BIGGEST GAME OF THE SEASON. ABSOLUTELY A MUST WIN!

Ok, this isn't actually a must-win. That term should be reserved for elimination games. But I'll stand by the claim that, to date, this is the Warriors' biggest, most important, impactful game. There's a lot at stake, and there's a lot to prove.

At stake

Our position in the standings, ahead of the Rockets. Our recent pair of slides has taken us out of contention for the 5th seed in the Western Conference, and plopped us right into a four-horse race for the final three slots. We are still the lead horse, but the comfort level that comes with being at the front of the pack is dangerous.

The Rockets have no such comfort: they're neck and neck with the Utah Jazz, and they've got the dastardly LA Lakers surging behind them, trying to get back into a playoff picture that many in October assumed they'd be at the top of. Every win or loss is crucial for Houston. And generally, I wish them luck - I'd love for them to hold down the 7th or 8th seed and force a great Southwest Division matchup in the first round. At the expense of the Lakers, which is very important.

Every game is nearly as critical for the Warriors. They are absolutely at risk of being overtaken by the three teams behind them, despite the comfortable schedule ahead. Gone is the confident, tough upstart who found ways to battle and get it done™, especially on the defensive end. What remains is a team whose defensive liabilities are no longer being masked by effort, and whose offense has evolved only insofar as Stephen Curry has in recent games taken his play to new heights. When Curry is shut down, as was somehow the case against the Kings on Wednesday, and even when he's got it going, the team has had trouble adapting to defenses that are no longer surprised.

And based on the last couple of games the Warriors played against the Rockets, adaptation will be key.

To prove

That Houston's onslaught against the Warriors in early February was more aberration than factual statement, and that their subsequent home loss in what should have been a revenge game was not further proof that the Rockets own GSW. And that the Warriors' place above them in the standings is deserved.

Because it certainly hasn't looked it against the Beard and his squad of misfits. In that first game, Mark Jackson had no answer for the three point bombardment we witnessed, which opened the floodgates in subsequent games and, one must wonder, may have been the first documented blueprint for how to dismantle the Warriors' then-slightly-above-average defense. Ever since, we've been exposed to schemes and hot-streak shooters that have but us on our heels and left us fans looking for answers.

But surely that initial shellacking, that meteor shower Houston unleashed, and the subsequent ball movement-fueled dissection and Chandler Parsons career performance can't be the new standard in these mutual matchups going forward. And surely there is still a smoldering ember of defensive effort hidden under the ashes of February that Jackson can fire up with his rhetorical bellows.

The Warriors have to prove themselves against the Rockets tonight, because really, do they deserve their position if they can't? To be sure, the Ws have earned their wins, absent their cornerstone center for much of the season, and absent their best perimeter defender and bench wing for all of it. But right now, in March, down the home stretch, isn't this a game they have to show up for? Isn't this a gut check pride-on-the-line contest that matters for all of the reasons available to a professional sports organization? And if they can't put it together for this game, what reasonable expectations exist that they can do so for any others as they approach the wire? And for the love of god, can we please not let the Lakers make the playoffs?

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