Both the Houston Rockets and the Warriors enter the matchup with undefeated records. The Rockets have had a fairly easy schedule, winning convincingly in each game. Their first test should’ve been the San Antonio Spurs, but Coach Popovich decided to rest his starters. The Rockets had scored over 100 points and held their opponents under 100 in each game besides the Spurs game where they were two points shy of continuing the trend. Although they’ve won each game by at least 10, don’t expect that to happen against the Warriors.
Golden State was tested early after blowing out the Kings and Lakers. The Blazers nearly came away with the win, but the Warriors showed maturity and poise to take back the victory. The Clippers were supposed to be another big test, but that proved to be a cake walk with the Warriors shooting the lights out and outplaying them in the second quarter.
Players To Watch
With Terrence Jones sidelined, Papanikolaou found himself playing early and often. The Rockets are really impressed with Papanikolaou’s play. The Greek forward’s versatile play makes him hard to defend. His game includes the three-ball and basketball I.Q. As a 24 year old rookie, his name is not an American household regular, but his resume speaks for itself. His athleticism won’t wow the fans but he competitiveness and drive to win will propel him to be successful.
His career began as an athletic swingman who’s best bet to score was to slash to the basket and attack the rim. Those days aren’t exactly behind him, but he prefers to sit behind the arc. After claiming a championship with the Lakers, Ariza’s confidence in his three-point shooting ability grew. With the pressure off Ariza, he’s producing nearly 16 points and 5 rebounds per game. From long range, he’s averaging 3.4 made shots on 6.4 attempts.
Injury Note: (Hou) Terrence Jones and Patrick Beverly. (GSW) David Lee.
Keys To Victory
James Harden continues to be one of the better players to draw fouls. He is consistently shooting double digit free throws. The Warriors need to keep him shooting from the perimeter, but it has to be contested. The left handed shooter can get hot quick too. Harden loves to bring the basketball up, navigate around picks, and flop a bit, but the Warriors guards will have to continue to be pesky. Like the “Splash Brothers”, it is going to be impossible to completely blanket Harden from scoring, but containing him will be key.
The Warriors will need to own the paint. DeMarcus Cousins was effective when he was on the floor, but foul trouble only allowed him to play about 30 minutes. In Portland, the bigs kept LaMarcus Aldridge from taking over the game. They forced him to stay away from the paint and score from the perimeter. Dwight Howard possesses no jump shot from outside of 12 feet, so containing him around the rim will be a challenge. It’ll be key to keep him off the boards and away from second chance points. His length, size, and athleticism will be tough for Bogut, Ezeli, and Green, but a collective effort can be enough to slow him down and get him into foul trouble.