March 31, 2015.
Sometimes, a season just seems snake bitten. Even with a team having a relatively healthy season, bad timing for an injury can cost a team a playoff series or even their playoff spot. We remember all too well when the Warriors limped through a six game series against the Spurs two years ago, or lost Andrew Bogut to a cracked rib, rendering him unable to play against the Clippers last postseason.
For now, head coach Steve Kerr seems to have found a pretty good balance of minutes and days off, which, coupled with relatively good fortune, has our beloved Warriors looking about as healthy at this time of year as they ever have (knocking furiously on wood). For a few other teams in the playoff picture, however, this just isn't the case.
In the case of the Houston Rockets, perennial All Star Dwight Howard has only played in 35 of his team's first 74 games this season, and starting power forward Terrence Jones has managed to suit up for just 25 contests so far this season. And while Dwight should be back, he will still be rested on some game days, and Rockets fans haven't been given a timetable for Jones' return from a cracked rib and collapsed lung. Donatas Motiejunas is also out with a back injury, though Daryl Morey expects both Jones and Motiejunas back by the end of the season. Starting point guard Patrick Beverly is out for the season with a wrist injury. Despite their injury woes, the Rockets have weathered the season admirably, and hold the #3 seed with 8 games left in their regular season.
Even though the NBA Cares, no one gets parades for being compassionate with their opponents, so let's take a look at the way the Rockets have played against the Warriors and what it will take to shatter the hopes and dreams of the Houston faithful.
If there's one team in the Association that wants to knock off the Dubs, it's the Rockets. The Warriors are 4-0 against the Rockets this season, much to the dismay of Kevin McHale's squad. Funny thing though, last season the Rockets went 4-0 against the Spurs. The past doesn't define the future, but it should still be examined nonetheless. Let's take a look at the four games the Warriors have played against the Rockets this year, and see if we can figure out how to repeat that success if we face off in the postseason.
On November 8th, NBA fans were treated to a match up of two undefeated teams. The 4-0 Warriors headed into the Toyota Center to battle the 6-0 Rockets. The Warriors played without David Lee, while the Rockets played without three starters, Patrick Beverly, Terrence Jones, and Dwight Howard.
Stephen Curry shot the lights out, scoring 34 points on .855 TS%, while Andrew Bogut grabbed 18 boards. James Harden struggled to the tune of a .413 TS% (1-11 on three pointers) while only managing six free throw attempts.
The Warriors outshot the Rockets with an eFG% of .500 while holding the Rockets to just .407, and outrebounded the home team 54-46. The Rockets forced 26(!) turnovers, but committed 22 of their own, negating much of that advantage. The 21-17 advantage the Rockets held in free throw attempts wasn't enough, and the Warriors emerged victorious 98-87.
About one month later on December 10th, the two teams had a rematch, this time in Oakland. Howard, Jones, and Lee would all miss this contest too, but this time they were joined in their Armani suits by Bogut. The Warriors were riding a 13 game winning streak, and the sellout crowd of 19,596 screaming Warriors fans was pumped for the game.
Harden came to play this time, putting up 34 points on .591 TS%, but his teammates struggled to score against the stifling Warriors defense. Harrison Barnes played one of the best games of his career, putting up 20 points on a ridiculous .969 TS%, along with 6 rebounds and 2 steals.
The turnovers were a push, with both teams coughing up the rock 15 times, and the rebounding was about even, with the Rockets edging the Warriors 44-43. The Warriors held a 20-15 free throw attempt advantage, but the real difference was in eFG%, where the Warriors outshot the visitors .543-.461.
The Rockets were frustrated. Before the third matchup of the season, James Harden famously told his teammates before the game, "They beat us twice already. They ain't that good, man."