Strap yourselves in for a huge game in Houston.
These teams have already met twice, with each team winning one game. At this point, it’s as close to an assured playoff matchup as you can get in January. Let’s go!
The Houston Rockets will host the Golden State Warriors in a battle between the top two teams in the West that is destined to be a high scoring, fun affair. In something of a running theme for this season, neither team will have their full roster available, for various reasons. But most importantly for the Rockets, they’ll be glad to have James Harden back after missing seven games with a hamstring issue.
But regardless of who plays, both teams are going to be treating this like a playoff game - and not just because of the budding rivalry between these squads:
“It’s effectively worth 3 games in the standings, since the winner also clinches the tiebreak. We can put the clamps on #1 seed with a win, or find ourselves in a dogfight with a loss.”
WHO: Warriors (37-9) at Rockets (31-12)
WHEN: Saturday, January 20, 5:30 p.m.
WHERE: Toyota Center, Houston, TX
RADIO: 95.7 The Game
The Rockets won’t be at full strength, but are still plenty dangerous
The Houston Rockets are no joke, even if their coach looks like the Pringles chip mascot. According to NBA.com, the Rockets have the league’s second most efficient offense and now that they have leading scorer, James Harden, back on board they are certainly going to be a handful for a Warriors’ defense that ranks 9th in 3-point percentage defense. Harden is back in action - potentially with a minutes restriction - after a seven game absence that saw Houston go 4-3.
But don't focus on that, because the number that will really matter in this game will be the three point shooting percentage.
The Rockets lead the league in deep ball attempts per game, and it’s not even remotely close. This is a conscious design choice from coach Mike D’antoni and one that dates back to his time with the Phoenix Suns in the mid 2000’s. As per Anthony Slater of the Athletic:
This season, the Rockets are shooting an NBA-record 43.6 threes per game. No one else is taking more than 34.2, which would still be a non-Rockets record. But that gap between No. 1 and No. 2 is larger than it’s ever been. The Warriors, at 29.1 per game, are 11th.
On the plus side, this predilection for deep shots makes the analysis for this game pretty simple: if the Rockets hit these shots at a high percentage, it’ll be a long night for the Warriors; if those shots aren’t falling, the Rockets probably won’t have much of a chance.
Of course, that’s not their whole game - Eric Gordon and James Harden have caused a lot of trouble in our last couple meetings by diving into the lane, repeatedly beating our perimeter defenders and setting the rest of the defense scrambling.
The Rockets are going to be missing some critical pieces of their rotation with Trevor Ariza and Gerald Green both serving their second game suspension following Monday night’s hilarious misadventures in the bowels of Staple Center. After the dust settled, the details turned out to be much more mundane then our initial reports featuring secret tunnels and decoys sent to knock on the front door. Of the two, the loss of Ariza hurts them the most. He leads the entire team in minutes played, and has been one of the more effective players at guarding our wing players.
The Golden standard
The Golden State Warriors are now sitting comfortably atop the West, right where they belong. I’m actually going to be a little bit lazy and just steal one of my own chat comments for an overview of where the Warriors are right now with respect to the rest of the league:
We are hardly losing.
Look at the standings right now… We have the best record in the NBA; 9-1 in our last ten games, 21-3 on the road. We have left the supposedly freshly-minted legitimate challenger Houston Rockets in the dust – they are four and a half games behind us, the number 3 seeded Spurs are seven games behind us.
Beyond the potential seeding issues attached to this game, the Warriors are also toying with history once again. If they can win this last game on their road trip, it will push their streak to 15 straight road wins - which would be a franchise record, and put them within two games of the all-time NBA road win streak.
in an excellent article published on The Athletic, Steve Kerr told Anthony Slater about the key difference between the Warriors and the Rockets:
“We are so different from Houston,” Kerr said. “Houston bases their offense on just gathering as many 3-point shooters as they could and everything is pick-and-roll, whether it’s (James) Harden and (Chris) Paul. We’re more pass and cut, old-school ball movement.”
“That’s the team that we mirror most closely (right now) — the Spurs championship team in 2014,” Kerr said. “There’s this beautiful mix of passing and shooting. But that team wasn’t Houston. That (Spurs) team had a lot of guys who were just so-so 3-point shooters, but they had so many playmakers. That’s who we are. That’s who we most closely resemble, I think.”
This is a stylistic battle that I am completely here for.