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Warriors at Rockets preview: Rematch of opening night, no James Harden or Kevin Durant

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Warriors seek vengeance against a Houston Rockets team that is without the leading MVP candidate in James Harden.

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

Both the Warriors and Rockets come into this game on the end of back to back. The Rockets are coming off a win in Orlando and the Warriors are coming off a last second win in Dallas. This game marks the rematch of opening night, where the Rockets upended the defending Champions on their banner night.

The Warriors seek vengeance against a short-handed Rockets squad who is missing their MVP.

WHAT: Warriors at Rockets

WHEN: Thursday, January 4, 5:00 pm (PST)

WHERE: Toyota Center, Houston, TX

WATCH: NBCSBA, TNT

LISTEN: 95.7 The Game

Blog Buddy: Dream Shake

One MVP returns and another exits

Stephen Curry returned to the Warriors lineup after a three week hiatus last week. James Harden is out for the Rockets with a hamstring injury that will put him out at least two weeks and potentially up to six weeks. Harden has been the leading MVP candidate thus far. Strained hamstrings are tricky situations to navigate.

With Harden out for some time, the MVP race opens up again. With Curry firing out of the gates the last two contests, he might just be able to make a strong case with Harden out.

KEY TEAM INJURIES

GSW: Andre Iguodala (Back), Omri Casspi (Back), Kevin Durant (Calf Strain)

HOU: James Harden (Hamstring), Luc Mbah a Moute (Shoulder)

Houston Has a Problem

The Rockets started the season off with a studly 25-4 record and soared to the top of the NBA. They had reeled off 14 straight wins and went 20-1 over a nearly two month stretch. Experts became true believers and some picked the Rockets as the best team to contend with the Warriors. Then all of sudden they came crashing down harder than a SpaceX test rocket:

Coming off a 14 game win streak, the Rockets put together a five game losing streak. Not only that, but they lost their MVP James Harden in the process. Mike D’Antoni had got the Rockets humming on offense and built a perfect synergy between Chris Paul and Harden. With their best player, sidelined, where do they go from here?

This is familiar territory for Chris Paul, who often had to play with Blake Griffin sidelined during his Clippers days. Paul has always played heavily on-ball so with Harden out, he will get the primary point guard duties. The Rockets also recently acquired Gerald Green, who will provide additional depth during Harden’s hamstring hiatus.

Player to watch out for: Clint Capela has built off his breakout season from a year ago by averaging a double-double and leading the NBA in field goal percentage at 68%. He has looked like a DeAndre Jordan-lite and has demonstrated great athleticism.

Warriors Return to Excellence

In the 11 game absence of Curry, the Warriors still managed to post a 9-2 record. In his two games back from injury, the Warriors are humming on offense and are 2-0. There has been a lot of talk about a drop off in the Warriors play from the last few seasons due to fatigue or lack of motivation.

Curry’s return to the lineup has freshened up the offense and given him the proper time he needed to refine his mechanics. Prior to his injury, he was shooting just under 40% from three and even with his current hot stretch he is shooting a career worst from three-point range. If the law of averages plays out, Curry’s regression to his mean will result in a bit more efficiency in his three-point game.

In a rematch of opening night where the Warriors lost after Durant’s game winning jumper was waived off, the Warriors will look to end the debate of the Rockets being “contenders.”

I expect this game to be a bit sloppy as both teams are playing the second game of a back to back. The Warriors’ starters played till the finals seconds of the fourth last night, and the Rockets are coming back to town all the way from Orlando. Tired legs and turnovers will be the theme. The game will still be high tempo, but temper expectations due to the back to back.

Prediction: Warriors defeat Rockets 124 - 119