Teams often attempt to obscure their limitations. To effortlessly guide you through a season as if they're chosen to follow a linear path to the NBA Finals. To hide the flaws and idiosyncrasies that would draw them out of their elite position. “These are all just bumps in the road” they say.
The Golden State Warriors been riding through their fair share of bumps, so far. Early season blips with one eye always on the end game - or even beyond. Assuming the defensive struggles will right themselves when it matters; that personnel concerns, or early-season losses don’t matter. Assuming that all obstacles will be overcome.
But it’s not always going to work out that way.
After fighting off the pesky Sacramento Kings on Thursday night, the Warriors return to action against a Houston Rockets team that has not been an easy out. They took us to seven games in the playoffs last year, and have managed to beat the Warriors in both of the earlier meetings this season - one narrow victory, and one resounding stomping.
Before the Warriors can think about who is coming out of the East, they'll almost certainly have to confront James Harden and the Rockets. Tonight’s game should be an exciting matchup between two teams that both know they are likely to eventually stand square in each other’s path.
WHO: Warriors vs. Rockets
WHEN: Saturday, February 23rd; 5:30 p.m.
WHERE: Oracle Arena; Oakland, CA
RADIO: 95.7 The Game
Blog Buddy: The Dream Shake
The Rockets are still adjusting to their full strength roster, and their design flaws
Due to a combination of bad injury luck, some ill-advised roster changes, and (perhaps) the league figuring them out, Houston has struggled a bit this season. However, after missing big chunks of the season, the Houston Rockets just recently got both Chris Paul and Clint Capela back from injury. Unfortunately, Paul’s most memorable play since returning has been a dirty foul on his Banana Boat buddy.
Currently sitting at 5th in the West playoff race, they are closer to the 9th seed (just one game difference) than they are the 4th - where the Portland Trail Blazer have a two-game advantage). It’s been a tough season for the Rockets. Though their offense is still potent at 114 points per 100 possessions - trailing only the Warriors and their 116 points - the defense has vanished. After ranking sixth in the league last season, Houston has plummeted all the way down to 25th. Decidedly mediocre.
While a lot of this can be explained away because of injuries and roster changes, the end result is less than ideal for a team hoping to make an impact in the postseason.
Warriors contrast in style
As fans here constantly debate how much isolation versus ball movement to employ in the offense, the contrast between Steve Kerr’s and Mike D’antoni’s systems always fascinate me. Over at our sister site, The Dream Shake, Xiane wrote a great summary of the complaints on Houston’s side:
A first half full of good ideas, and clever play, even a big playing at PF(!), turned into the same old dribble ISO slog. The problem was compounded by, yet again, none of the Rockets supporting cast being able to hit an open shot.
It’s a vicious circle. Harden gets doubled, passes out, and someone, Tucker, Green, whomever, clanks a wide open three. So Harden decides to shoot out of that contested situation, because he can’t rely on his teammates. Sometimes he makes those shots, sometimes he misses.
Who is to blame? Honestly, it’s the coaches.
Golden State has the opposite problem. The system here requires ball movement as the default, with isolation plays only being used in very limited instances. Which can cause it’s own set of problems, as per ESPN, here’s Kevin Durant after the tight win over the Sacramento Kings talking about abandoning the fancy Kerr offense:
Sometimes you’re not going to win it with the team game and the way we always play. Sometimes you’re just going to have to play streetball, you know what I’m saying?
Regardless of how effective these players are, the theoretical difference between these two coaches is always fascinating to watch. While James Harden puts up historic counting stats on astronomical usage percentages, there’s a very valid question if D’antoni is doing the overall team a disservice by riding Harden so hard.