Game Day: Can Houston Rockets Deliver First Back to Back Losses of Warriors Season?
Entering the season the Houston Rockets said they had one thing and one thing only on their minds: the ‘pursuit’ of a title. Now as the end of another calendar year looms the Rockets may have adjust that desire to simply be the pursuit of re-discovering the Rockets team who finished last season in the Western Conference Finals!
Tonight the Houston Rockets get their second shot at the reigning NBA Champion Warriors in a mired state as their MVP is a likely no go with a bruised leg, ditto for several other key contributing Warriors. This marks the first time in well over a year the Warriors have been without more than one starter and it offers the best opportunity for their opponents to take advantage.
Having said that the Warriors aren’t about to roll over and quit just because they are facing a little adversity and the first true injury road block in over a season. Just like they’ve fought to be the last team to lose a game they’ll also be trying to keep their streak of not losing two in a row in tact, so expect a focused effort at the Toyota Center.
Beating the battered and injured Warriors may not be the perfect litmus test for these Rockets who can’t seem to figure out who they are from one game to the next, but it should be a good start. .
To that end, let’s take a look at how the teams match-up:
Venue: Toyota Center
Game Time: 7:00 PM EST – 6:00 PM CT
TV: ROOT and CSN
Radio: 790 AM and KNBR 680 AM
Last season the Rockets swept the Nuggets posting wins of :
- October 30th GSW112-92 HOU
- November 8th GSW 98 – 87 HOU
- December 10th HOU 93-105 GSW
- January 17th GSW 131-106 HOU
- Stephen Curry, bruised leg – game time decision
- Harrison Barnes, ankle – out until January 2nd
- Festus Ezeli, toe – targeting return tonight
- Leandro Barbosa, shoulder – targeting January 2
- Kevon Looney – hip, targeting a January return
GSW for Thursday – Stephen Curry PG DOUBTFUL [leg] [missed 1g] https://t.co/FzD2YKOfJc
— Basketball Monster (@BaskMonster) December 31, 2015
- Sam Dekker – back surgery November 20 , will be out 3 months
Shooting Guard – Klay Thompson vs James Harden
In the 4 losses last season Thompson did a decent job of making Harden’s life difficult especially behind the arc where he shot under 25%. At this stage and the potential for Curry to be sidelined the spotlight has never been brighter on Harden. He needs to lead his squad to a win and prove the naysayers wrong.
Nothin' But Nets
Recently Klay Thompson said he is the NBA’s best shooting guard which of course Harden countered with albeit cryptically, but also a clear counter that he (Harden) is the best.
Tonight offers the opportunity for that point to be made, especially if Curry doesn’t play as it shines the light directly on the two guards.
Can they play however without letting the focus of their personal story line take over the game? Or will this become a mano a mano (forgive the expression… but) pissing contest?
For Harden his best bet would be to try to make his team function at it’s nth degree and let his scoring fall within the normal boundaries and flow of the how the game occurs. He’s proven capable of doing that through the first 3 quarters of games, but had difficulty with it specifically at the end of quarters and games when he goes into iso-James mode.
Edge: James Harden I’m going with the bearded man for two reasons:
1) the post championship celebration (Thompson apparently got extremely drunk) and different vocal outbursts from Thompson have proven to me (unlike Curry) that Thompson does act his youthful age and often speaks before he thinks. Whenever you here of statements or predictions coming out of the Warriors camp they are usually associated with Thompson.
In his article this week on why the Rockets could beat the Warriors earlier this week Ben Casey highlighted how Thompson isn’t necessarily the defender everyone says he’s cracked up to be.
2) losing simply isn’t an option for Harden. Whether Curry dresses or not the Rockets know he is at less than 100% so a loss would pretty much guarantee trades early in the new year. But, more importantly what would it do to Harden personally? Won’t a loss make the already fragile nature of the Rockets’ locker room doubt the bravado of Harden? Certainly his selfish iso ball and high ball usage stats have to be a source of frustration within the existing team framework. Therefore another loss to a less than 100% Warrior squad might only serve to push whatever tentative grasp Harden has remaining of his team away.
James Harden on Klay Thompson calling himself NBA’s best SG: ‘We really know what’s going on’ https://t.co/RVO5qIbyQo
— Kurt Helin (@basketballtalk) December 31, 2015
In Kurt Helin’s article of basketballtalk he provides Harden’s response to Thompson’s claim of being the games best shooting guard (below) and his response to whether it added motivation to tonight’s game, Harden said “No” :
“People are going to talk,” Harden said. “Just let them talk and do whatever they’re going to do. Whatever gets them excited and whatever gives them that confidence to want to talk, just go ahead and do it. But we really know what’s going on.”
Rockets Front Court vs Draymond Green:
The other intriguing match-up comes in the front court with whoever matches up against Draymond Green. I could pick one Rocket player, but the reality is it will take a village to defend Green as he’ll be the driving force to make sure the Warriors don’t lose two in a row.
If Curry is the Warriors MVP then Green is their heart, soul and grit. He is the man who inspires even the veterans when things get tough as many of the vets on Golden State are more of the team type who like to lead by example as opposed to by mouth. Green literally is the true emotional leader of the Warriors.
Don’t be surprised if Green spends time guarding both Howard and Harden tonight given he is their best defender.
It would be a great night for Motiejunas to be hot from behind the arc or force Green into early foul trouble, especially if DeMo can work in concert with Howard to keep all the Warrior bigs active. Getting Bogut and Green in early foul trouble could pay major dividends given Ezeli is also out injured.
Edge: Draymond Green – Even with the Rockets front court at 100% Green is one of those guys who you can’t measure simply via a box score. Still, I won’t be surprised if he ends up with a triple double in pursuit of helping his team get the win.
Keys to Winning:
- Assume No Curry: Prepare for the game assuming Curry will play (if he doesn’t it’s a bonus)
- Have Curry -No Curry Game Plan: Once tip-off occurs if Curry does play make him work on defense and if he doesn’t play pressure Thompson to get him in early foul trouble
- Paint a Picture: Take the ball to the paint early and often with the primary goal of scoring and secondary goal of getting Bogut and Green in early foul trouble. With no Ezeli, Barnes and oh yeah this guy named Curry it leaves little help on the bench if the other power players get in foul trouble.
- Perimeter defense: with just one Splash Brother to contend with it should make for an easier defense
- Maintain emotions – the Rockets all know how close they came last season and this season has gone according to plan for one team, it’s just not the Rockets. Hence they’ll need to maintain their emotions if Golden State jump on them.
- Play 48: In the past two games at various times the Rockets have held strong leads only to cough them up because they allowed themselves to relax or lose focus.
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Looking at the spread I thought the odds makers must be playing a joke on us, right? Golden State loses only their second game of the season and are facing the most inconsistent team in our Rockets but they are the underdogs? Seriously?
Okay I guess they know something we don’t (that Steph Curry definitely won’t play perhaps?) so they favor the Rockets by 2.5 points, with an over-under of 210 points. Early action is on the Warriors (big surprise) to cover that spread.
Here’s the thing this is a classic trap game to bet since the Rockets beat San Antonio on Christmas Day and there is the potential the Warriors won’t have Curry, Barnes, Ezeli or Barbabosa in the line-up. Still, it’s a long shot not to favor the team who’ve only lost 2 games all season and obviously have yet to lose two in a row.
On the other hand the Warriors have never been more primed this season for a loss given there will be so many out along with potentially their top player. Of course they are also on the second night of a back to back and on the road. So, here’s the thing if the Rockets can’t beat them in this state then you can bet the Houston squad who finishes the season will most assuredly not be the one finishing 2015.
In fact, I’ll go so far as to say if the Rockets lose tonight there will be a move made before the end of January.
For more exciting news and stories on the Golden State Warriors visit our affiliate Fansided site: Blue Man Hoop
Plus check our our Preseason Team Preview of the Warriors:
And the Rockets preview:
Make sure you catch up on our entire Team Preview Series, our Houston Rockets Player Profile Series as well as our SCS Round Table Sessions to help you get through the season. Start your morning with SCS Rocket Science Daily and visit us throughout the day to keep abreast of all your Houston Rockets news and updates.