Golden State has been nearly perfect against Houston
By defeating Sacramento last night, Houston earned the right to face Golden State in the first round of the playoffs. Based on the recent history of these teams, the Rockets have their work cut out for them. The Rockets are winless in the regular season against the Warriors in the past two seasons and fell to the Dubs in the 2015 NBA playoffs in five games. There won't be many (any?) pundits picking the Rockets in this one, nor should there be.
Regular season results between Warriors and Rockets
- October 30, 2015 - Warriors win in Oakland 112-92
- December 31, 2015 - Warriors win in Houston 114-110
- February 9, 2016 - Warriors in in Oakland 123-110
The Warriors and Rockets only faced off three times this season, rather than the usual 4 contests between Western Conference foes. Based on how the Warriors handled the Rockets, a fourth game could have been the difference between the Rockets making or missing the playoffs.
In the teams' first game, James Harden showed signs of being out-of-shape on the way to 4-of-18 shooting for 16 points. Meanwhile, Stephen Curry proved that his 2014-2015 MVP Award was no fluke, tallying 25 points, 7 rebounds, and 6 assists as the Warriors outscored the Rockets in every quarter. The Warriors won the second quarter by 12 points and never looked back.
Curry, Leandro Barbosa, Harrison Barnes, and Festus Ezeli didn't play due to injuries in the New Year's Eve matchup, but Klay Thompson dropped in 38 points alongside Draymond Green's triple-double to edge the Rockets in Houston. Harden led a late comeback with 30 points, but the shorthanded Warriors got the road win one day after an embarrassing loss to the Mavericks in Dallas. If the Rockets had a chance to beat the Warriors, this was their game against a shorthanded squad.
In February, Curry rattled off 35 points, nine assists, and six rebounds in a back-and-forth game. The Warriors jumped to a 42-27 lead after the first quarter, but the lead dropped to just 3 by halftime and the fourth quarter started with the score tied. Sparked by three of Andrew Bogut's six blocks in the game, the Warriors put on their game faces in the fourth quarter to win by 13. Harden notched 37 points but couldn't prevent the second consecutive season sweep by the Dubs.
The tale of the tape
The Warriors and Rockets play at a fast pace, scoring and allowing more points than most teams. Get ready for a barrage of three point shots, as these are the only teams in the league averaging over 30 such attempts per game. It would make for a fun viewing experience if it weren't for the fact that Harden and Dwight Howard get to the free throw line so often, Harden by design and Howard because teams intentionally foul him to put him on the line. Houston shoots a league leading 29.4 free throws per game in an attempt to bore their opponents into submission.
Looking closer at the numbers, Golden State led the league in scoring with an astounding 114.9 points per game while giving up an average of 104.1. Houston averaged 106.5 points per game and gave up about as many at 106.4. To amass those scoring totals, the Dubs led the league in three point shooting percentage, while the Rockets ranked 19th. The faster pace on offense naturally results in a higher number of turnovers for both teams, though Houston does a better job of forcing opponents into turnovers. The Warriors instead rely on holding their opponents to the third lowest shooting percentage in the league, trailing only the Hawks and Spurs, while the Rockets once again rank 19th in the league.
Any way you slice the numbers, the Warriors have the advantage here and it has played out that way in their games this season and last. Will the Rockets have it in them to push the series further than the five games they managed last year? Golden State has only improved since last season and Houston has taken a step backward. It's hard to see the Rockets posing much of a threat in this one.