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Game Preview: Warriors look to bounce back against Rockets

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While the Warriors cap off the year against their Western Conference rivals, the Houston Rockets, at Toyota Center, Klay Thompson looks to prove he's best two-guard in league.

Troy Taormina-USA TODAY Sports
Matchup
rockets logo
Golden State Warriors
29-2 (14-2 ROAD)
vs
Houston Rockets
16-17 (10-8 HOME)
Details
December 31, 2015
Toyota Center — Houston, TX
4 p.m. PST
CSN Bay Area | KNBR 680 AM
Blog Buddy: The Dream Shake
Projected Starters
Stephen Curry G Patrick Beverley
Klay Thompson G James Harden
Brandon Rush
F Trevor Ariza
Draymond Green F Clint Capella
Andrew Bogut C Dwight Howard
Key Injuries

Stephen Curry (bruised shin) - Day-to-day
Festus Ezeli (toe) - Out
Harrison Barnes (ankle) - Out
Leandro Barbosa (shoulder) - Out
Kevon Looney (hip) - out

Terrence Jones (illness) - Questionable
Sam Dekker (back) - Out

★★★

In the midst of uncertain health, the yuletide's end brings one desperate and reminding sentiment to Golden State Warriors fans everywhere: Stephen Curry is the jet juice of this team, and it's tough to be elite without him.

The lack of confidence and focus during last night's loss in Dallas was reminiscent of the Oakland A's, weeks after the Yoenis Cespedes trade. The swag was non-existent and they couldn't hit the long ball, while the Mavs beat them from deep, all four slices.

Tonight, the Dubs look to bounce back against their social nemesis. But this time around, the spotlight fixes not on a platinum vs. fool's gold MVP debate, but a positional match-up between two men who claim superiority over the other. Klay Thompson welcomes critics to join the holiday audience, as he sounds off, claiming to be the best shooting guard alive. Meanwhile, Curry is sidelined in a tie, and the Dubs are now heavily relying on Thompson's offensive and defensive performance to tip the balance this New Year's Eve.

This is Thompson's big chance to let the ball do the talking, and eat what Livingston shovels into his yap. He's going to take the shots that Steph otherwise would, and critics will be watching. The time is now, Klay. Wet James Harden with the Tommy gun and justify the homecoming love-fest on bobblehead night — because you won't be able to hide behind Curry while he pulls the trigger. They're going to come for you, this time.

Despite all the grandstanding, the Warriors really do have the Rockets on their back in the sand; that extends beyond all the tit-for-tat verbiage. It would be a big blow to Houston's self-esteem if the Warriors can somehow pull off a big road victory without the MVP at the helm. And for Houston fans, a defeat may be the one of the first straws for the camel's arthritic back, in terms of James Harden wearing out his welcome.

The precarious state of being without Kerr or Curry affords the Warriors an opportunity to show how far their acclaimed chemistry can take them. But even without their key components, the team still has their best perimeter defenders to keep Harden under 40%, and Andrew Bogut will still be there to mitigate Howard's offensive mediocrity, while negating the effect of Dwight's one-on-one defense in the post, as Andrew doesn't look to score. There's also a mental edge of owning previous meetings that shouldn't be discredited, and it's often said that the best teams won't underwhelm you on back-to-back outings. So even without Curry going into the new year, there's still hope!

Keys to victory

Draymond Green needs to take the reins. It's that simple. Without Dray setting the tone defensively, pushing the ball with Livingston, and attacking Howard, it's going to be hard to win this game. Is it fair? No. Green should be playing less than 28 minutes on his bad wheel. But the Warriors simply need him to lead. Anything close to a triple-double tonight would be an epic notch on Green's belt as an insistent "winner," if the team were to defeat Houston.

Dray hasn't been put in a position to be the number one guy. He's had Steph to complement him, every step of the way. But with all the success that has followed Green this year, this is a chance for his star to shine even brighter. He'll turn some voters if he's the reason the gut-shot Warriors win at the Toyota Center.

Klay Thompson has to drop buckets. He's got to play the alpha tonight. Listen to Tupac. Do whatever you need to do, Klay. But play angry. Harden thinks he has 11's number, as the two recently exchanged jousts. As shown below in an exclusive Klay vs. James matchup video, it's evident that Thompson is more than capable of individually stopping Harden on the ball. The Rockets aren't heady enough to get themselves back into a game if their scoreboard is blitzed early by a defensive team. A big first half for Thompson would be one giant leap towards a successful night.

Livingston should try to get into the lane and challenge the 6' guards. There's no reason why he shouldn't look to take advantage of Ty Lawson or Beverly in the post. He needs to make Thompson's man think about leaving him to help. Though he was -14 against Dallas, Shaun tallied 4 assists while committing no turnovers. If he can boost activity while taking care of the ball, and make a point to set up Thompson early for easy buckets, he could prove to be the unsung hero.

Despite a great game from Howard (30 points,16 rebounds) and James Harden (26 points, 10 rebounds and eight assists) Bickerstaff's Rocket's still couldn't beat the Hawks at home.

Happy New Year!!!!!!!!!!!!!