GOLDEN STATE WARRIORS (37-9)
at HOUSTON ROCKETS (30-12)
Tip-off: Saturday, 8:30 p.m. ET
Line: NA, Total: NA
Houston and Golden State meet for the third and final time this season.The Warriors visit Houston for the second time in 16 days in what will be the final meeting between the Western Conference powerhouses until a possible showdown in the playoffs. The teams split the previous two meetings with each one winning on the other team’s home floor: The Rockets won 122-121 at Oakland’s Oracle Arena on Opening Night in mid-October, while the Warriors scored a 124-114 victory on Jan. 4 in Houston while star Rockets SG James Harden watched from the sidelines. Houston will be without SG Gerald Green and SF Trevor Ariza for a second straight game on Saturday against the Warriors, the result of their central roles in the contentiousness between Rockets and Clippers that spilled over to outside the locker rooms after the games; with the Golden State beginning to pull away with the No. 1 seed out West, this isn’t a game for which Houston should be short-handed. The Rockets did get back C Nene Hilario and, far more importantly, Harden from injury absences. They'll need Harden to keep up with Golden State at home on Saturday. The Warriors, meanwhile, could be without some key players of their own. As of Friday morning, the statuses of SF Andre Iguodala (questionable), PF Draymond Green (probable) and PF Jordan Bell (doubtful) were all up in the air.
The Rockets looked impressive in a convincing 116-98 win over the Wolves on Thursday night. SG Eric Gordon led the way for Houston with 30 points on the strength of seven three-pointers off the bench, continuing his banner year. He played 35 minutes, more than he normally would, to account for Harden being eased back into the lineup. Harden played poorly in his 26 minutes, posting a minus-11 plus/minus and barely extending his 200-plus-game double-digit scoring streak with 10 points on 3-of-15 shooting. How much of that performance was due to rust is uncertain, but what is certain is the fact that Houston will need him to play better on Saturday against a Warriors team that won’t simply be going through the motions against what’s arguably their premier competition in the Western Conference. Ariza’s absence on Thursday was made up for by a strong outing from PF Luc Mbah a Moute, who made his return to the lineup from an injury. He played 32 minutes of strong wing defense, while also making a season-high four three-pointers. Nene’s return on Thursday proved to be consequential, as the veteran big put up 12 points and eight boards off the bench. Starting C Clint Capela scored 20 points, benefiting from Nene, the team’s only other true big, backing him up once again.
The Warriors allowed 40 points in the first quarter to the Bulls on Wednesday night in Chicago and trailed at halftime. They came back and outscored their opponent 32-12 in the third quarter—in true Golden State fashion—to put the game away. SG Klay Thompson had his best scoring night of the season, scoring 38 points on 7-of-13 three-point shooting. Thompson became the first player to hit 150 threes this season, a fact made especially impressive by the fact he’s shooting a remarkable 45.4% from deep. PG Stephen Curry also shot well, scoring 30 points and going 6-of-11 from three. When the Warriors are shooting plenty of threes and making them, they're extremely difficult to beat. Curry is shooting 47.2% from three over his last four games. Bell got the start at the four spot while Green sat with a sore shoulder, and he injured his ankle while being posterized by Chicago’s Robin Lopez in the game's first minute. SF Kevon Looney played 30 minutes as a result, posting a team-best plus/minus of plus-33. SF Kevin Durant had a quiet night by his standards, scoring only 19 points but adding eight rebounds and seven assists without turning the ball over. It broke a streak of four straight games in which Durant had shot better than 55% from the field.