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Game Preview: Warriors look to contain James Harden and the Rockets

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All systems are “go” for another thrilling battle of Western Conference Playoff teams.

NBA: Houston Rockets at Golden State Warriors Kyle Terada-USA TODAY Sports

When: Friday, January 20th 5:00 PST

Where: Toyota Center - Houston, TX

TV: CSN Bay Area, ESPN

Radio: 95.7 The Game

Blog Buddy: The Dream Shake

The Golden State Warriors are in the midst of a telling stretch of games with the Cleveland Cavaliers, Oklahoma City Thunder and Houston Rockets in a five night stretch.

So far so good!

The Warriors absolutely destroyed both the Cavs and the Thunder by 35 points and 21 points, respectively. Now they leave the comforts of home and head out on a four game road trip starting tonight in Houston.

Team Comparison

All-Star starters going head-to-head

As you have probably heard by now, Stephen Curry and Kevin Durant were voted into the starting lineup for the 2017 NBA All-Star Game along with James Harden, who is having an extremely impressive season. Tom Ziller of SB Nation already described why Harden is a more impressive MVP candidate than Russell Westbrook, who took a brutal flop during the Thunder’s loss to the Warriors on Wednesday night.

Of the 32 players averaging 20 points per game this season, Harden is No. 5 in True Shooting percentage at .614. Westbrook is No. 29 at .543. Harden is contributing his 28 points and 12 assists per game on fewer possessions than Westbrook is contributing his 31 points and 10.5 assists. In fact, Westbrook takes about five more field goal attempts per game than Harden to get three additional points. That’s not a good trade off.

This isn’t to cheapen Westbrook’s achievement. But efficiency very much matters, and given how close the two superstars are in the big picture, it’s the relevant tiebreaker here. That Harden is able to shoot so efficiently while shooting so much is really incredible, on par with Stephen Curry’s 2015-16 MVP performance.

Evidence of how difficult it can be to contain Harden can be found in the Warriors’ 132-127 double-overtime loss against the Rockets on December 1 at Oracle Arena. Back in December, the Warriors were able to hold Harden to just 8-for-23 shooting from the field, but he still managed game-highs of 15 rebounds, 13 assists and 14 free throw attempts.

Expect plenty of threes

Possibly the most significant difference in that first meeting on a team level was the Rockets’ ability to shoot more efficiently as a team overall. Although Harden didn’t shoot particularly well, UC Berkeley alum Ryan Anderson scored a game-high tying 29 points on the strength of 5-for-10 three-point shooting; Eric Gordon added 23 off the bench, going 4-for-9 from long range. Figuring out how to keep those guys under wraps will be key to the Warriors getting a win on the road tonight.

Regardless of who gets hot, these are teams that are both willing to live and die from beyond the arc. For example, in their last meeting neither team shot particularly well from the 3-point line but they both attempted 44 three-pointers. Those numbers should hardly come as a surprise; the Rockets lead the league in three-point rate with an average of 40 attempts per game — about 10 more attempts per game than the Warriors. Mike D’Antoni has made his imprint on this Rockets team; giving James Harden the ball and surrounding him with three-point shooters has made them extremely difficult to stop.

An exciting matchup

The two previous games this week against the Cavs and Thunder got more hype for obvious reasons, but this could very well be the most exciting game this week — and even the most exciting regular season series. We might have dismissed this franchise after so easily advancing past them in the playoffs over the last two seasons, but this is a new team clearly built to maximize Harden’s talent — and it’s working.

More excitement would be nice, but seeing the Warriors correct some of the things that led to a home loss in the previous meeting would be an encouraging end to this week.