Preview: Warriors host Rockets to open end stretch of the season

The Golden State Warriors open the doors of Chase Arena and welcome former semi-rivals, the Houston Rockets for a Nationally televised game. The last time these two teams met, Dub Nation was treated to the win of the season, as the short-handed Warriors shellacked the Rockets on Christmas Day.

Golden State and the Rockets have both retooled at the trade deadline - can the Warriors pull off another astonishing upset, or will James Harden and the Rockets exact their revenge for their earlier embarrassing loss?


GAME DETAILS

WHO: Golden State Warriors (12-43) vs Houston Rockets (34-20)

WHEN: Thursday, February 20th, 2020; 7:30 pm PST

WHERE: Chase Center, San Francisco, CA

WATCH: TNT


Changes abound - both teams have shuffled rosters

While those of us watching the Warriors every night may have been distracted, the Houston Rockets have also undergone their fair share of turmoil since ending last season with a loss. While the Warriors have been forced to retool on the fly due to Kevin Durant’s departure, Houston took an equally aggressive shift in team construction for another set of reasons all their own. If you missed it because of the crazy half year in Golden State, there are rumblings that perhaps the Rockets trade was driven by interpersonal issues as much as any franchise strategy as reported by Yahoo:

“James made this [expletive] happen,” a league source told Yahoo Sports. “He wanted Chris up out of there.”

Fun!

From Daniel Hardee’s write up over at the old site, the team that beat the Rockets on Christmas day is long gone - six players have been traded, representing a combined 135 minutes from that game. Three of the starters have moved on, but looking at the list, I’m not sure that the current Warriors roster is demonstrably worse.

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Instead of those redlined departed Warriors, Golden State will deploy a mixture of new faces, and some internal promotions.

Watch Marquise Chriss in particular. Though he may struggle against the Rockets eccentric “no bigs needed” lineups, he could also very easily serve as the perfect foil to Houston’s dastardly designs.

Those designs? The Rockets made a fairly major roster reshuffle at the trade deadline this year, sending out Clint Capela - a guy they just signed to a five year, $90 million contract, less than a year ago. We’ll talk more about this later, but just to isolate the Capela move: consider Andris Biedrins.

At the time, the Warriors thought they were locking up a promising young Center on a reasonable deal. Likewise, so too were the Rockets more than comfortable signing Capela to a long term deal. Heck, in looking up the contract, I found this ESPN piece that calls the contract a win for the Rockets.

But this in this new era of the NBA, much like the old one that Biedrins lived in, it doesn’t take much of a drop off before a team’s rim-running defensive Center is actually very replaceable. Capela, without a jumper, or really any meaningfully threatening offensive weapons with range beyond three feet, was quickly lost in the Rocket’s depth chart. His defense and offense were both limited to the post, and therefore vulnerable to attack from modern NBA teams that the Rockets are hoping to beat.

The Houston Rockets have undergone changes that are stylistic as much as personnel-based.

Houston keeps getting weirder and weirder. After embracing spreadsheet culture (as well as the dominant impact of James Harden), the Houston Rockets continue to reinvent themselves.

So Capela is gone, and a couple of new wings are in. Both DeMarre Carrol and Robert Covington should be able to find ample opportunities in the Rockets’ system. But really, it’s Forward PJ Tucker that is at the Center of things (har har, see what I did there?).

By moving away from a traditional center, the Rockets have fully realized the offensive philosophy started in Phoenix with those “7 seconds or less” teams led by Steve Nash. At first they tried the “twice the offense, “double offense, half the defense” model but quickly figured out that some defense is indeed required.

So now they’ve settled on a middle ground. With James Harden and Russell Westbrook taking almost all the action (Harden’s usage percentage is 36.6, Westbrook’s is 34.2), Houston has essentially decided that they can win with a roster composed of nothing but wing players.

It’s the sort of “so crazy it just might work” move that makes sports so entertaining, and the Rockets have returned good results so far.

But Draymond Green isn’t totally sold that a devotion to small ball is the path towards future success.

In a pattern that has been well marked in the recent past, the Warriors may have precisely the sort of players and systems to expose the Rockets.

At just 6’9” and 240 pounds, Chriss is not anything remotely close to the traditional “banger” Center that thrived in the post in NBA days of yore. We’ll talk about the Rockets unusual lineup design choices in a moment, but Chriss has the opportunity to show the Rockets why your team may very well want a Center, after all.

Here’s a 30 second clip from the recent Heat game. Chriss first uses his agility to stay with a driving guard (this is like… 93% of the entire Rockets game plan) before blocking the shot - and then makes a heady save off the offensive player as he falls out of bounds. And then, right as the teams run back to the other end, he flashes into a high flying rim runner with a finish that causes Charles Barkley’s voice to rise from the ether of the basketball universe and whisper “they too small.”

It’s unknown if Kevon Looney will be available to play. He’s been struggling with injury problems all season, so it’s impossible to say to what degree watchers should attribute his last missed game to the team’s stated “hip bruise,” or if Looney will need time to heal from more than just a banged up hip.

Assuming Looney isn’t available, Kerr will be judicious in his use of Chriss. Since the Rockets don’t really have a Center-sized center anymore, expect the Warriors to continually poke and prod for a weakness in matchup advantages that a player like Chriss could cause amongst certain lineups.

Prediction

I’m going to go full homer here and predict a Warriors victory. Yes, I know Houston’s favored to win by almost 10 points, but I’m hopeful some combination of Wiggins and Chriss - along with some old school Draymond Green - can propel the Warriors to a rare win tonight.


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