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Warriors vs Rockets preview: Is a rivalry forming between Golden State and Houston?

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The Houston Rockets visit Oracle Arena tonight on National TV after some strong words over the last week from Rockets players. Can the Rockets make this into a rivalry?

Troy Taormina-USA TODAY Sports

Golden State Warriors (33-6) vs. Houston Rockets (29-13)

Oracle Arena - Oakland, CA

7:30 p.m. PST

TV: TNT (National) | Radio: KNBR 680

Buddy blog: The Dream Shake

"They Ain't Even that Good" - James Harden

The Rockets chose to take to the airways this week with some public comments about the Golden State Warriors. Leave it to ESPN to jump on the chance to air some pre-game words shared by The Beard before the last matchup in Houston.

Harden's team needed the motivation - they were at home against a division foe. ESPN loves the sound bite because a) they sell on controversy (see: Cavs), big match ups against the league's best teams (see: Cavs) and so far the league's "big tickets" this season have been disappointing (see: Cavs) so they need new blood. Harden's words rung true, as this "not that good" team trounced the home Rockets 131 - 106.

Way to get em' going James.

But then Jason Terry decides to join the public quote fun, and now we have a conversation.

This time it was not provoked by pre-game speeches. The Rockets want to - correct that - need to grab and sustain an edge this season and apparently a veteran like Terry thinks it's done by talking down their conference rivals. Like the Clippers, rivals tend to bring the best out of you. It looks like Terry would love for this Warriors - Rockets match up to become a rivalry.

The problem with rivalries is that they have to be mutual. They have to come from mutual hatred for both teams (or in the same wave, mutual respect). They develop from big time match ups and buzzer beaters, heart breaking losses, etc. They don't come from taking cheap sound bites to the media. That's called bulletin board material, and you don't want to give a team you are looking up at the standings any more reason to blow you out like they have multiple times so far this season. This rivalry at this point this season is one-sided. It's a motivation tool by the Rockets, and though the Warriors are aware and concerned of a good team like Houston, might not yet share the same killer beliefs.

So fast forward to tonight, when the Rockets visit Oracle Arena for the second time this season for the final game the season set. The Warriors are riding a 16 game winning streak at the friendly confines after a MLK day owning of the lowly Denver Nuggets. The victory was a balanced relentless attack of efficiency, marked by fantastic defense and working through early shooting struggles to create easy offense. It was a key start to a tough week of games, getting all five starters "iced up" by the start of the fourth while watching James Michael McAdoo earn his rookie stripes, game ball and hand shake from ownership. The extra rest helps the final push to the All-Star break, with some tough travel coming soon.

Klay Thompson and Stephen Curry have done their best last-second All-Star push, and with that tonight's match up will be all about the All-Stars:

  • Houston: Harden and Howard: Howard plays the Golden State bigs well, as Bogut did his best to keep up with the big man last week in Houston. If Bogut and Mo Speights can keep him off the block and turn him into a jump-hook scorer, it limits his effect (though still efficient). We are a long way away from the 30 rebound hack-a-Dwight Orlando days, but Howard still gives the Warriors headaches, just like all physical match ups do (see: Memphis). Harden however has been relatively neutralized by the Thompson/Curry backcourt defense. He is still getting to the line (he's averaging over 10 trips to the line this season per game) but the Warriors rush him off the three-point line and accept his crash the glass style, making him earn his contribution. Look for more of this strategy tonight, as Harden must be contained and limited in order to beat this tough Houston team.

  • Golden State - Curry and Klay: What can we say. Both players are rounding out fantastic first halves which exceeded expectations. This unselfish back court has become 2 and now 3 dimensional, evolving past the three point specialists they once were known as. Curry has played amazing defense this season (ask Steve Kerr is quick to point out) and Thompson has truly become one of the best two-way guards in the league. Its also the next level skills these two are developing: Klay is getting to the line at the best clip of his career (4.7 attempts per game over his career average of 1.89) which is creating easy offense when the team is struggling to score. Curry has continued to develop into one of the league's best passers, even lowering his turnovers per game as the season has progressed. The All-Star starters will be revealed Thursday on TNT, and we are all hoping Klay Thompson finally joins Steph Curry on the big stage. I'm sure Klay would love to take this chance against his potential All-Star teammates to show he deserves his spot on the squad.

They keys tonight however will not be from the All-Stars. Though these stars shine bright during the match up, the reason the Warriors have been able to beat the Rockets has been because of the rest of the roster.

Keys for the game

  • Win the battle of the second teams - Houston brings Josh Smith, the aforementioned Jason Terry, and a group of role players off the bench with a fairly deep roster. Add in Trevor Ariza and D-Mo (worse nickname in the league) to balance out the roster, and they do a great job creating mis-matches all over the floor. The key is, after you have forced the ball out of the hands of the two superstars, to not let the role players beat you. Forcing Ariza off the three point line (he has been hot as of late) and not letting Patrick Beverley beat you off the dribble is key. The Warriors' supporting cast must dominate this match up.
  • Let the home crowd motivate you - National TV match up plus the home crowd will instantly make this a fantastic atmosphere. Get the crowd in the game early and often, and the Rockets will be swimming up stream all night long.
  • Key Wins against conference foes - There is a big chance these two teams will meet in the playoffs. The West will go through one of these two cities, and both have title intentions in their future. This match up is big for future implications including home-court advantage in a future match up.

Predictions

  • You can't keep this Houston team in check forever, but the Warriors are too good at home to be held back. Maybe Houston gets them once this season back at home later in the year, but this time the Warriors continue to take care of business and handle the Rockets 105 - 98.