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Houston Rockets Primed to Upset Golden State Warriors

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Nobody sees it coming, but the Houston Rockets have a chance to surprise the Golden State Warriors on Thursday.

Don’t get me wrong. If I were to put money on the game, I’d put it on the Golden State Warriors. At 29-1, they’re on pace to finish with the best record in NBA history by a long shot.

They play a sort of new-age position-less game that forces mismatches everywhere for opposing defenses, including the Houston Rockets‘ in the playoffs last season.

Stephen Curry is actively redefining the point guard position and the way shooters are to be guarded (you have to quadruple team him, and even that doesn’t work all the time). They’ve proven themselves to be the league’s premier team this season.

However, there are a few reasons for Rockets fans to have hope. It may seem crazy after tonight’s 19-point lead blown, but Houston has a fighting chance to make this one interesting.

ONE: Houston will not try to outdo Golden State at their own game. The Indiana Pacers tried to beat the Warriors with their own version of the small-ball lineup, and it did not go well. As frustrating as it may be, Curry was right when he said that teams “won’t have the personnel” to imitate their unique style of play.

The way the Rockets will probably (definitely) approach the game is with their twin towers lineup, with Dwight Howard and Clint Capela getting the starting nod. The best chance a team has of beating Golden State is to go big and out-muscle them. Going big is nothing new to the Rockets; the twin towers lineup is the their winningest group so far this year at 11-4. It’ll put the Warriors at an advantage in some ways, but I’d be surprised if the rebound totals don’t favor the Rockets.

TWO:  Patrick Beverly has about as good a chance of locking up Stephen Curry as anybody. He has the 6th best Defensive Real Plus-Minus (DRPM) rating among point guards in the league as per ESPN’s ranking, and is widely regarded as one of the best on-ball defenders in basketball. He won’t be able to stop Curry, but he will have a good chance to slow him down and get in his head.

THREE: The two worst defenders in the Warriors’ starting lineup are the ones that will be guarding James HardenKlay Thompson and Harrison Barnes are the players that have been assigned to Harden in the past, and both have defensive ratings that are worse than the rest of the starters and even some of the bench players. Thompson ranks 45th among shooting guards in DRPM, again as per ESPN.  If Barnes sits again like he has in recent past due to injury, then Brandon Rush will start and  Andre Iguodala will get the secondary minutes on Harden.

However, Iguodala guarding Harden does not affect the argument – Iguodala has a worse defensive rating than all starters except for Thompson. Golden State will definitely make it hard on the Houston star, but it won’t be the situation in San Antonio where arguably the league’s best defender (Kawhi Leonard) hounded Harden all game. James should be able to take advantage of the matchups and score plenty to keep the Rockets in the game. 

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FOUR: The Rockets, for whatever reason, are 4-1 so far this year against top-four teams in the Western Conference. The only loss came to the Warriors in the second game of the season during the weird losing streak to start the year. It seems that this Houston team seems to lose many of the games they’re supposed to win and then wins many of the games they’re supposed to lose. That may hold no weight at all come this Thursday, but this season’s history says it could.

FIVE: As per several reports, Stephen Curry may not play against the Rockets on Thursday. As a basketball fan, I’d rather see Curry play for the game’s sake. If he sits, the outcome of the game is tainted. If the Rockets win while Curry sits, then it will be portrayed to have only been a victory due to his absence. If the Warriors prevail despite Curry resting, then the Rockets face even more scrutiny as a team who still couldn’t win even with the obvious advantage. Either way, it needs no explanation as to why Curry’s potential absence would give Houston an edge.

Houston, when playing to their potential, matches up with Golden State just as well as (or better than) any other team in the league. Statistically, this will be the hardest game of the season thus far, but I’m optimistically looking for the Rockets to surprise the Warriors with an upset. Nobody is expecting Houston to win this game, so they have nothing to lose. If there’s ever a time to leave it all out on the court, it’s this Thursday night against the Golden State Warriors.

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