I wonder if the Rockets are still upset about that Christmas present the Dubs gave ‘em: a beautifully gift wrapped “L.” THIS IS A GAME YOU’LL WANT TO BE AT FOLKS!
WHO: Golden State Warriors (12-43) vs Houston Rockets (34-20)
WHEN: Thursday, February 20th, 2020; 7:30 pm PST
Season Series: Tied at 1-1
TICKETS: Buy tickets on StubHub
The Rockets have spent several years and tens of millions of dollars attempting to surround
This season the Warriors are shackled to the bottom of NBA standings, beset by poor health and heavy roster turnover. And yet, the limping squad had arguably their biggest win of the season on Christmas Day against a Rockets team that boasts two MVP’s in James Harden and Russell Westbrook.
Since then, both teams have tinkered heavily with their rosters. The Warriors traded six guys who played a combined 135 minutes in that holiday victory.
On the other side, the Rockets shipped out their starting center and former “key franchise piece” Clint Capela as part of the team’s aggressive commitment to spacing the floor around Harden and Westbrook. Houston currently has no one in their regular rotation taller than 6-foot-8, but that hasn’t slowed them down.
Since the Rockets removed Capela from the lineup, they have won five of the last seven games with notable victories over the Mavericks, Lakers, and Celtics. Over that seven game sample size, Houston leads the league in steals per game (10.1) and are a passable 14th in defensive rating (111.6) barely trailing the Lakers and Nuggets.
They’re also seeing the benefits of the center-less rotation on the offensive end. Per Ben Golliver of the Washington Post:
Going center-free has numerous benefits. Harden can survey the court without any players in the painted area...Westbrook, meanwhile, has more room to attack off the dribble — which he did by scoring 41 points against the Lakers. The rest of the Rockets also should benefit from better floor balance now that the court will no longer get cramped the way it did whenever Westbrook and Capela, two non-shooters, played together.
With the addition of two more rangy “3-and-D” wing defenders Jeff Green and DeMarre Carroll, Houston appears to be increasingly fascinating puzzle to solve.
Warriors to Watch:
The 22-year old power forward has been rejuvenated in Golden State, averaging 15 points and 8 rebounds on 59% shooting during the month of February. He also has 15 blocks over that six game span, sending shots away with vigor.
Chriss against Houston’s small ball experiment will be the game within the game Thursday. Houston is gambling their size deficit won’t be a detriment because the days of post dominant behemoths are nearly extinct. Can Chriss control the glass, score over smaller defenders, and chase the Rockets’ little guys around Chase Center? If so, he gives the Warriors one more reason to have faith in him going forward.
Warriors should watch out for:
Houston’s defense generating easy points
The Warriors skittered away a winnable contest last time out against Phoenix, in part because of 22 turnovers. This season Golden State has a record of 1-6 in games they have 20 or more turnovers. On Christmas, the Dubs only committed 16 turnovers.
In order to beat Houston for the second consecutive time, the Dubs will have to keep those backbreaking errors at a minimum.
Over the last seven games the Rockets rank 4th in points scored off turnovers (19.1 per game). Westbrook and Harden are masters at finishing in transition, finding open shooters, and drawing contact for free throws.
The Warriors have to play smart and keep the Rockets from activating a feeding frenzy off of steals and deflections. If they do that, they keep their chances high that they will keep the Beard and the Brodie winless in San Francisco.
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