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Preview: Warriors at Rockets

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Following a loss against the Thunder last night as Steve Kerr Popoviched Andrew Bogut and Andre Iguodala, the Warriors look to rebound against the Rockets, led by James Harden.

After resting last night, Andre Iguodala will be needed to slow MVP candidate James Harden.
After resting last night, Andre Iguodala will be needed to slow MVP candidate James Harden.
Kyle Terada-USA TODAY Sports

Golden State Warriors at Houston Rockets

Toyota Center -- Houston, TX

5:30 PM Pacific

TV: NBA TV (national) CSNBA (local) // Radio: KNBR 680

Blog Buddy: The Dream Shake

The Warriors are going to have their full armada at the ready in Houston tonight. Good thing too. The Thunder absolutely decimated a Golden State team playing without defensive fulcrums Andrew Bogut and Andre Iguodala last night.

A short recap of the destruction: OKC put up 127 points, 69 in the first half; Kevin Durant scored 36 on 14-18 shooting; Russell Westbrook was everywhere en route to a 17-17-15 triple double; Serge Ibaka scored 27 on 12-18 shooting. Overall, the Thunder shot 53% from the floor, a season-high allowed for Golden State.

When Andrew Bogut is on the floor, the entire defense for the Warriors changes. They have a rim protector sealing off the paint, and their liberal switching tactics are able to jump into a frenetic setting. To wit: When Bogut is on the floor, the Warriors limit teams to just 45.7% shooting in the paint, per ESPN Stats and Information. Tonight Bogut will play a massive role, rested and ready to take on the Rockets' Dwight Howard.

Houston may be just as talented offensively as Oklahoma City, with James Harden leading the Moreyball attack. Harden has emerged this season as quite possibly the MVP favorite (most respected MVP rankings have him either first or second) in leading the league in scoring and dragging Houston to currently the fourth seed in the wicked West without Dwight Howard for much of the season. He's also helping to remodel the game of basketball itself.

Harden embodies the philosophy of "basketball mad scientist" and Rockets General Manager Daryl Morey -- the leader of the analytics movement. Harden is the perfect lab rat for Morey's hardwood experiments.

The offensive creed of Morey, a graduate of Northwestern and the MIT Sloan School of Management, is to score on: Threes. Points in the paint. And free throws.

Rox Shot Chart (Goldsberry Grantland)

(hat tip Kirk Goldsberry*)

Well, this season, the Rockets are certainly holding dear to the Morey Doctrine. They have shot more corner threes than total midrange shots! By comparison, Golden State has shot over five hundred more midrange shots than corner threes. The Rockets' heavy reliance on threes and on analytics and on approaching basketball via a mathematical rather than a strictly aesthetic scheme has brought both scorn and success to the franchise in the last few years.

While the Rockets have annoyed certain "basketball purists" with their "gimmicky" offense, it's been extremely effective. These "purists" apparently sneeze at math. A three-pointer is worth more than a two-pointer, if I'm not mistaken. The interesting thing about the Rockets is that while the basic shooting percentages may look ugly, in context -- meaning, when taking into account the additional value of three-pointers and free throws -- they are among the most efficient scoring teams in the NBA.

Basketball junkies know that the defenses of the Warriors and Rockets are the straws that stir the drink. Houston and Golden State currently have the two best defenses in the NBA, and have been among the best for multiple years.

Stephen Curry and Klay Thompson are lauded for their shooting prowess, and rightly so, but they also are key contributors to the NBA's top defense. Curry is second in the league in steals per game, and Thompson is part of a lengthy, athletic, stifling perimeter defense -- including Harrison Barnes, Iguodala, Shaun Livingston, and Justin Holiday -- that has preyed on opposing wings. And do-everything (and upcoming free agent) Draymond Green guards all five positions, sometimes on a singular possession.

Likewise, Harden is celebrated for his offense but humiliated for his defense, both in the NBA's inner circles and in the media. However, to his (and Daryl Morey's) credit, the Rockets have managed to build the second-best defense in the entire NBA with maybe its most lackadaisical defender playing the most minutes on the team. Something has to be said for that. Also, the Rockets have a bevy of solid perimeter defenders, including Trevor Ariza, picked up from Washington in the offseason, and the Curry-stopper, the irritating, annoying pest Patrick Beverly; Dwight Howard protects the middle for Houston.

Both teams are at full strength, and it will be interesting to see if the game comes down to the wire. Also, they haven't played a real close game in nearly a month, since they outlasted New Orleans in overtime in the Big Easy. So if the game goes down to the final minutes, will Curry look for his own shot or make the right play, whatever that may be? Important to remember, though: The Warriors have smashed basically every team they have played when Andrew Bogut has been healthy -- 17 straight wins with Bogut on the floor.

It should be a fun matchup between two of the most innovative, explosive offensive and the best defensive teams in the NBA.

Predictions!

  • James Harden scores 40 points
  • Houston attempts 40 three-pointers
  • Draymond Green: 9 points, 8 rebounds, 7 assists, 6 steals, 3 blocks
  • Warriors 100, Rockets 94

*Image credit: Goldsberry, Kirk. "The Future of Basketball is Here, and It Looks A Lot Like James Harden". "NBA and Houston Rockets Shot Chart". Web. 7 Jan. 2015. 16 Jan. 2015. http://grantland.com/the-triangle/future-of-basketball-james-harden-daryl-morey-houston-rockets/>