Coming off back to back losses for the first time this season, the Houston Rockets face a tough task Friday night when the Golden State Warriors invade Toyota Center. The Rockets took 3 out of 4 games last year, but a small rivalry has been brewing between both teams.
It began with the Rockets tying the record for most 3-pointers made in a game at 23 in a 140-109 win in February. Warriors coach Mark Jackson prevented the Rockets from breaking the record by fouling on each possession, and forward Draymond Green slapped Patrick Beverley as he was setting up for a 3-point attempt. Green instigated the situation even further over the summer by expressing his disdain for the Rockets.
To gain some insight on Friday night’s matchup through the perspective of the Warriors, I spoke with Eric He of Blue Man Hoop.
MM: We know about the development of a potential rivalry stemming from last season, as well as the Draymond Green comments made about his disdain for the Rockets, but what is the feeling now towards the Rockets now and do the Warriors view Friday night as a ‘statement’ game?
EH: The Warriors definitely do view this as a “statement” game. Houston boats one of the strongest lineups in the West and if the Warriors want to compete for a championship, they’re going to have to beat teams of the Rockets’ caliber. The Warriors have not beaten a “contending” team on the road at all this season, which means they’re going to have to step every part of their game up a notch if they want to escape Houston with a victory.
MM: What is the status on Andre Iguodala and if he’s unable to go, how do the Warriors plan on defending James Harden and the rest of the Rockets’ perimeter guards?
EH: Warriors GM Bob Myers said Wednesday that Iguodala is still a week or two away from returning, so we won’t be seeing him on Friday. The Warriors will have to put either Harrison Barnes or Klay Thompson on Harden. Thompson’s defense has been much improved since his rookie season, and Barnes was decent when guarding Kevin Durant last week.But there is no denying that without Iguodala, the Warriors will have a hard time defending Harden. They’re just going to have to go with the “we can’t stop him, so let’s just hope to contain him” strategy and try to make him give up the ball.
MM: While injuries have hampered the Rockets so far, one of the strengths is their depth and bench play. With key reserves Jermaine O’Neal and Toney Douglas bothered with injuries of their own, will bench play be a concern for the Warriors?
EH: Bench play has been a concern for the Warriors ever since they lost Jarrett Jack and Carl Landry to free agency. They brought in Douglas, O’Neal, and Marreese Speights to replace them, but out of the three, only the O’Neal signing has proven to be worth it. Douglas has been hurt for the past few weeks, and Speights has struggled mightily while seeing his minutes decrease.So in short, yes, the bench has and will be a concern for the Warriors, especially with the injury to Igoudala. That forces them to start Harrison Barnes, who would normally be the sixth man and provide much-needed depth off the bench. And statistically, the Warriors’ bench is the third worst in the league, averaging just 22.1 points a game.
MM: Dwight Howard has been a double-double machine so far, and Terrence Jones has been electric as the starting power forward. With all the talk of the Warriors guards, how do you see their frontcourt match up against the Rockets?
EH: The matchup of the game to watch, in my opinion, will be Andrew Bogut vs. Dwight Howard. You have a great defender in Bogut matching up against a dynamic scorer in Howard, and both of them are roughly the same height. But other than Bogut, the Warriors don’t really have a defensive presence in their frontcourt. David Lee is a big defensive liability, and O’Neal’s age has caught up to him.Side note: the Warriors will not be afraid to use the “Hack a’ Dwight” strategy to slow down the Rockets. It will be interesting to see if that means Kevin McHale will be forced to sit Howard down the stretch.
EH: This will not be popular amongst Warriors fans, but I have a feeling that the Rockets are going to blow out the Warriors in this one. Golden State is on a two game win-streak, but they barely survived against the Kings and needed a spectacular comeback to beat the Raptors on Tuesday. Also, as mentioned before, they have yet to beat an “elite” team on the road, and the Rockets fall into the category of “elite.” And the loss of the Iguodala has really hurt their defense, so James Harden may go off on the Warriors,