After a disappointing first half in which the Warriors found themselves heading into the All-Star break with their playoff hopes hanging by a thread, the second half theoretically brings the promise of a fresh start and a chance to get off on the right foot. The Dubs already took care of business against the DeMarcus Cousins-less Kings on Wednesday night, but their real test comes Thursday night when they travel home to face the Houston Rockets.
The Rockets head into the matchup as the NBA’s hottest team, having won eight straight games and 14 of their last 17 to springboard into third place in the West. In sharp contrast, the Dubs have won just eight games in that 17-game span, and they’re floundering in seventh place, just a game and a half away from being out of the playoffs.
The Rockets will be playing on the road for the second straight night, but that won’t prevent them from bringing one of the league’s strongest starting fives to the floor. James Harden and Dwight Howard have been on a tear for Houston, and Terrence Jones has been a pleasant surprise at the power forward spot. Chandler Parsons has been the go-to third scorer on the team, and he’s shooting over 50 percent on the season. The Houston bench has also played a role in the team’s success, with Jeremy Lin recording his most efficient NBA season in the sixth man role and Omri Casspi providing solid play off the bench.
Houston Rockets (37-17) Projected Lineup:
PG: Patrick Beverley (9.6 PPG, 4.0 RPG, 2.8 APG, 12.3 PER)
SG: James Harden (24.0 PPG, 4.7 RPG, 5.4 APG, 21.8 PER)
SF: Chandler Parsons (17.1 PPG, 5.6 RPG, 3.6 APG, 17.1 PER)
PF: Terrence Jones (11.7 PPG, 7.3 RPG, 18.0 PER)
C: Dwight Howard (18.9 PPG, 12.5 RPG, 1.83 BPG, 21.9 PER)
Key Bench Players: PG Jeremy Lin (13.2 PPG, 14.6 PER), F Omri Casspi (7.6 PPG, 13.9 PER)
Keys to Warriors Victory:
Slow Down Dwight Howard
Howard is averaging 24.1 PPG during the Rockets’ eight-game winning streak while shooting 60.6 percent during that span. But it’s his defense that will really prove to be problematic for the Dubs.
The Houston big man is averaging 12.3 rebounds during the winning streak, and he’s recorded multiple blocks in six straight games (2.7 per game in that span). Andrew Bogut will likely return for the matchup, but there’s a good chance he won’t be at 100 percent. Either way, the Rockets will be able to stack up on perimeter defense unless the Dubs can show their ability to attack in the paint.
Receiving Contributions From Iguodala and Barnes
This will be the first time the Warriors will face the Rockets with a healthy Andre Iguodala in the lineup, which will go a long way toward limiting James Harden’s production. On the offensive end, however, Iggy has scored 20 or more points only once since Nov. 6. Despite his season-long lackluster scoring effort, the Warriors swingman did take 11 shots against the Kings on Wednesday, and he’s starting to heat up a bit (52.8 FG% in his last four games). Barnes has been equally impressive, shooting 50 percent while averaging 13.2 PPG during the last five games, a span over which the Warriors would be 4-1 were it not for LeBron James’ game-winner.
Chandler Parsons, who will be tasked with guarding Iguodala and Barnes for much of the game, is far from a defensive force, at times proving to be a liability in that regard for the Rockets. With Howard locking down the paint, it will be important for the Dubs to take advantage of potential mismatches around the court.
7:30 PM PST, February 20, 2014
ORACLE Arena, Oakland, CA
Radio: KNBR 680 AM