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Warriors vs. Rockets: James Harden leads Houston back to the Golden State

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In the first national broadcast of the season, the Warriors face off against nemesis Houston at home.

If the Warriors were sleepwalking this past week, there's no finer alarm clock than James Harden coming to town.

Ty Lawson and "the Beard" have publicly dissed the Warriors, canceled out Stephen Curry as a fake MVP, and now arrive in Oakland with hopes of delivering a third consecutive loss on a nationwide stage. The game will be broadcast on TNT, and there will be plenty of talk about the growing rift between the reigning conference finalists.

After defeating the Toronto Raptors in the first game of the preseason, the Warriors (1-2) have fallen to two of their lesser Western Conference foes in the past week.

Tonight, the team will certainly have something to prove, even if it's preseason.

Houston is healthy, loaded, and revamped.

Ty Lawson / Patrick Beverley v. Stephen Curry

Defensive bane Patrick Beverley moves to the bench, giving up his starting role to former Nuggets star Ty Lawson. Houston now boasts a double-edged combo of speedy offense and smothering defense in their small guard duo.

Beverley used to disrupt Stephen Curry's offense with his physical brand of hounding full-court defense. But as evidenced last season, Curry's talents have risen above the challenge. The Warriors swept Houston in four meetings last year, while Curry shot over 50% and logged at least 20 points in three of those matchups.

In the final regular season meeting between the two teams, Beverley sat with injury, while Steph almost single-handedly rolled the Rockets (13-19 fg, 6-9 3fg, 34 points).

One positive take way from the past two losses has been Curry's opening play. Look for Steph to respond to Ty Lawson's public criticism. Hopefully, Curry locks down Lawson for a screwy ast/to rate and a sub 40% game. Look for Livingston to take his turn at the 6'1", defensive-minded Beverley.

James Harden v. Klay Thompson

Harden will look to stir up Klay and keep the Warriors' defense on their heels. If anybody feels like they have something to prove, it's James Harden. Curry cooked him up some nasty, home-cooked stew back in May, and James is still tasting those 13 chunky turnovers in his beard. Let's see if the Splash Brothers can singe down that face fungus for him a bit with some steamy shooting.

It's important for Golden State to establish a few ground rules with the defensive Rockets this season. They need to show Houston and the rest of the NBA that they are still the Western alpha-team. Thompson needs to herd Harden's drives into Bogut's sweet embrace.

Dwight Howard v. Andrew Bogut

While Howard takes the broadcast cake as the more known, elite defender, Bogut's defensive real plus-minus rating of 5.83 led the NBA last year — and it wasn't even close. Ethan Sherwood Strauss writes a great article outlining why Bogut deserves the title as the NBA's best defensive center. Here are some clippings from Strauss on Bogut's impact:

44.6 percent
Opponent FG percentage on shots within 6 feet of the rim with Bogut on the floor. Opponents' typical rate: 59.4 percent.

28.3 percent
Percentage of shots opponents take within 5 feet of the rim when Bogut is in. With Bogut out: 35.3 percent.

31.1

Three-point attempts per 48 minutes that Golden State takes when Bogut is in the game. When he's on the bench, that number drops to 24.2 attempts.

+16.6 Net Rating

The Warriors' net rating (offensive rating minus defensive rating) when Bogut is on the floor. That's more than double what it is when he's on the bench and is the top mark among NBA centers this season.

Harden might be the most effective offensive player driving to the basket in the league, but the Warriors are tailor-made to put a stop to that.

I have the Warriors waking up to put away Houston by 10.