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Preview: Warriors host James Harden & the Rockets to the Bay

This great rivalry gets its first round of the year. Which team’s improved roster will come out on top?

NBA: Playoffs-Houston Rockets at Golden State Warriors Kelley L Cox-USA TODAY Sports

Game Information

Golden State Warriors (15-2, best in the NBA) vs James Harden & his Rockets (11-7)

How to Watch?

Date: Thursday December 1, 2016

Location: Oracle Arena — Oakland, CA

Time: 7:30pm PST

TV: TNT, CSN Bay Area Radio: 95.7 THE GAME

Team Comparison

The Warriors... now find themselves at the top of the league after the NBA’s best all had hiccups this week. Draymond Green returned to the lineup on Monday against the Hawks and delivered some of the most dominating individual defensive plays I have ever seen in an NBA game. For anyone that questioned “sacrifice” during the offseason and how this team would gel, Green is scoring less (which he should expect) but contributing even more to the intangibles for this squad. His shooting has been inconsistent at best, but he seems more than willing to rotate the ball off the line with an extra pass or dribble to create an even better shot for our all-world scoring talent.

The team still retains the best offense in the league, which is being talked about as a possible all-time best. They now average 117 Points Per Game (PPG) while giving up 104.9 PPG (which is a huge improvement over the last few weeks). Their “primary” lineup is actually the 4th best defensive team in the league, so if the garbage time crew start stepping up their game in meaningless minutes, our superficial stats would look even better!

Kevin Durant continues to dominate the league, winning Western Conference Player of the Week last week. Did you know he averaged 29.5 PPG (on .49% shooting) against the Rockets last year while with the Thunder? Did you also know that the Rockets didn’t feature two horrible defenders in Ryan Anderson and Eric Gordon in their starting lineup last year? Yea... we could see a huge performance on Thursday from Iceberg Slim.

The Rockets... feature James Harden, and he is good at basketball. Mike D’Antoni has landed in Houston and found his dream “point guard” in Harden, who is having a career year (which says something for a top-10 guy in the league already). According to ESPN, Harden is responsible for a league-leading 58.4 points per game between his scoring and passing. As if Harden didn’t have enough shooting around him last year, he now features two more great shooters in Anderson and Gordon who are both shooting around 40% from three-point range. Harden’s new favorite weapon? Clint Capela, who is replacing Dwight Howard in more ways than one. He is shooting .625% from the field (mostly on dunks from Harden passes) while chipping in close to nine rebounds per game. They feature a deep roster, with contributions coming from five players averaging in double-digit scoring.

Why is this team 11-7? Because like every D’Antoni team, they are not great on defense. They are in the bottom half of the league in points allowed and defensive rating. Shockingly they are actually slower than last year’s team, even with D’Antoni at the helm. It should be told that their losses have come from the league’s best — Toronto, Cleveland, San Antonio and Atlanta — with their only “bad” loss coming on opening night to the then-healthy Lakers in Los Angeles.

The Matchup

The Warriors swept the season series last year between these two teams, with Golden State winning the only matchup in Oakland 123-110. You now add in Durant as another scorer that the Rockets must cover with their already-porous defense, and it is hard to argue that Houston is in a better position to win this game over last year. Harden averaged 25 ppg in the three contests, so the problem was not his contributions. It must be the new role players that make the difference, and a guy like Ryan Anderson has traditionally caused issues for Golden State.

With that said, I am erroring on the side of history and predicting another win for the Warriors at 125-112. I think the streak will continue, but this will be another fun, high-scoring affair like it usually is between these two teams.

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