Friday night will feature a matchup between two of the Western Conference’s up-and-coming teams: the Golden State Warriors and the Houston Rockets. These are two teams who do not like each other, and will probably be jostling with each other for playoff positioning at the end of the season.
To preview this matchup, we had a Q&A with Michael Ma of SpaceCityScoop, FanSided’s site for everything Rockets.
Q: The Warriors were reportedly one of the teams interested in signing Dwight Howard this past offseason, but he chose the Rockets instead. Some Warriors fans were upset, but many were glad because they considered Howard to be a “cancer” in the locker room. How has he fit in with Houston? Any issues with his attitude or chemistry?
A: Dwight is happy to be in Houston, and rightfully so, as the Rockets are the first team he chose to play for, versus being drafted by the Orlando Magic and being traded to the Los Angeles Lakers. He’s fit in just fine, and has carried a good attitude thus far, which is indicative by his numbers: through 20 games, the Rockets stand at 13-7, while Howard is averaging just 16.6 points(his lowest point total since his 2nd NBA season) and 12.3 rebounds. But there has not been a peep coming from Howard about demanding the ball more, or attempting more shots as he understands the Rockets don’t need him to put up the 20-plus points, 14-plus rebounds numbers that he did while with the Orlando Magic.
Chemistry issues have occurred, but it’s more of a familiarity issue on the court, rather than players not getting along with one another. Not only did Howard come in to a new system, new teammates, and new scenery, the Rockets have been hampered by injuries to start the year. Patrick Beverley and James Harden were hurt in the first week of the season, and the Rockets are now without Jeremy Lin, Omer Asik, and possibly Chandler Parsons as well.
Q: I’ll ask you a question similar to your first one: it’s clear that these two teams dislike each other. Do the Rockets look at this matchup vs. Warriors as a rivalry and “up a notch” from other games?
A: Absolutely, the Rockets took three out of four against the Warriors last year, but lost in the first round of the playoffs, while the Warriors upset the Nuggets. That, plus Draymond Green’s comments over the summer, and the hype the Warriors received from the national media since the offseason, have had the Rockets itching to face Golden State. This will be a ‘feel’ game, which should tell the Rockets just how good they actually are, or how far away they are from being legitimate contenders in the tough western conference.
Q: The Rockets lead the league in points per game at 109.1. But they are also second-to-last in points per game allowed at 103.1. Would it be fair to characterize them as a team that scores a lot, but also gives up a lot of points? If so, what factors have contributed to those stats?
A: It would be an understatement to say that. The Rockets are currently the classic “Run’N'Gun” team: play fast, play small, shoot either a 3-pointer or layup, and occasionally take breaks on defense to save for offense.
A number of factors contribute to their 103.1 points allowed per game: The Rockets are 5th in the NBA in PACE(98.9 possessions per game), which in turn, leads to more possessions for their opponents. The Rockets also lead the league in turnovers per game, at 18.1, and have been inconsistent with their effort on defense each night.
Q: Last time these two teams played each other, the Warriors blew out the Rockets 108-78. Stephen Curry and Klay Thompson combined for 55 points and 11 three-pointers. How can the Rockets stop these two knock-down shooters?
A: The Rockets won’t stop Curry, Thompson, or even Harrison Barnes from the outside, but they’ll do their best to limit the damage by running them off the 3-point line any chance they get. While the numbers say that the Rockets have defended the 3-point line fairly decent(allowing opponents to shoot 36.7 percent from beyond the arc), the amount of possessions that opponents get when playing the Rockets flaws that percentage: opponents shoot over 23 3-point attempts against the Rockets, which is 4th most against any team in the NBA, and the Rockets give up close to 9 3-point makes per game, which is 5th most in the league.
The Warriors will get plenty of open looks from the 3-point line, but if the outside shot is not falling, then Rockets will be in good shape.
Q: Game Prediction?
A; It has the makings of a game that will come down to the wire, but I think the Rockets will make enough plays down the stretch to take the win, 110-105. Late game execution has been a bit of a problem so far, but the Rockets were able to close out a huge win in San Antonio, and the fact that the Rockets have only lost once at home since November 9 has me giving the edge to them.