Golden State Warriors vs Houston Rockets: Lineups, preview & prediction 1/4/18

The Houston Rockets flourished without James Harden, but the opposition level skyrockets Thursday night when they host the Golden State Warriors.


(Photo Credit: Keith Allison)

Houston (28-9) cruised to a 116-98 victory Wednesday night at Orlando without James Harden, the league’s leading scorer at 32.3 points per game who is sidelined at least two weeks with a Grade 2 strain of his left hamstring. Eric Gordon stepped into the starting five and scored 17 points, but it was recent free agent acquisition Gerald Green who starred with 27 off the bench while hitting seven of ten from 3-point range.

Green, who was signed last Thursday and had not been attached to any team after being one of the final cuts by the Milwaukee Bucks before the start of the season, has made an instant impact after shaking off the rust in a scoreless debut at Boston. He has made 13 of 22 from beyond the arc and averaged 18.3 points in the last three games, and is now coach Mike D’Antoni’s top perimeter threat off the bench.

Green and Gordon’s shooting helped Chris Paul rack up 13 assists to offset his shooting woes. The point guard was just three of 13, but the Rockets finished with 25 assists and shot 15 of 34 from 3-point range as Trevor Ariza contributed three while adding 12 points.

Golden State (30-8), meanwhile, kicked off a three-game road swing in dramatic fashion with a 125-122 victory at Dallas on Wednesday night. Stephen Curry sank a tie-breaking 3-pointer from the top of the key on a pick-and-roll run with Draymond Green with three seconds to play as the Warriors won for the 14th time in 16 games and ran their road winning streak to eight games. 

Curry finished with 32 points as he, Green, Kevin Durant and Klay Thompson combined for 100 points while hitting 13 of 29 from beyond the arc. Durant and Thompson each had 25 points, and Durant and Green pulled down ten rebounds apiece.

The teams are meeting for the first time since Houston spoiled Golden State’s championship banner raising with a 122-121 season-opening win at the Oracle Center on October 17. Harden totaled 27 points and 11 assists, but the Rockets’ bench stole the show as Eric Gordon, P. J. Tucker and Luc Richard Mbah a Moute combined for 58 points while hitting 21 of 32 shots.

Tucker scored the tying and winning points from the foul line with 44 seconds to play before Curry missed a potential game-winning 3-pointer in the final seconds and Durant’s putback came just after time expired.

Three keys to the game

Steph is back - One luxury of having a star-laden team is that when one of your stars gets injured, the other ones pick up the slack so they can fully heal. And if his first two games back are presented as evidence, Curry is 100 percent healthy and back to his best. He has totaled 70 points, hitting 16 of 26 from 3-point range and 24 of 36 overall in his two games after missing the previous 11 with a sprained right ankle.

A milestone for D'Antoni - Thursday's game will mark the 1000th regular-season NBA game of D'Antoni's coaching career, making him the 30th member of that club. He enters this contest with a record of 537-462 and has gone 82-36 since taking over the Rockets at the start of last season.

The "Road" Warriors - Golden State have won eight straight on the road with Wednesday's victory over Dallas, but it was their 116-114 overtime triumph at Staples Center over the Los Angeles Lakers on December 18 that carved out a piece of NBA history as the Warriors became the first team to record at least one seven-game road win streak in five consecutive seasons.

Golden State are 15-3 outside Oracle Arena this season and have averaged 119.0 points during their current eight-game run while shooting 38.9 percent from 3-point range and 50.8 percent overall. The Warriors have made at least 11 trifectas in seven of those victories.

Matchup to watch

SG Gerald Green vs SG Nick Young - Given the wealth of high-profile matchups that could be explored, it is odd to center on a pair of guards coming off the bench, but each of them could prove to be a difference-maker for their respective clubs.

The biggest question involves Green and his conditioning, though it should be pointed out he has played 27 or more minutes in Houston's last three contests. His 27-point effort Wednesday night was his highest scoring output since netting 30 for the Miami Heat in a 119-111 victory over Sacramento on April 1, 2016, and he failed to record a 20-point game in 47 contests coming off the bench for Boston last season.

Young's 23 points off the bench against Houston in the season opener, in which he made six of seven from 3-point range, led to over-hyped expectations that the Warriors already prolific offense would reach unprecedented levels. That has not been the case as Young has not only failed to eclipse the 26 minutes he played in that game, but he also has reached double digits just eight times in his 35 other games.

He is averaging 6.8 points overall but still must be respected as a perimeter threat since he is shooting 39.1 percent from 3-point range. If he gets hot in this game, it could result in a replay of the first game in which the Warriors forced the Rockets to go to a smaller lineup by sacrificing rim protector and strong rebounder Clint Capela. While Houston did win that game, duplicating it without Harden will be a very challenging task.

Golden State Rockets projected starting lineup

PG - Stephen Curry | SG - Klay Thompson | C - Zaza Pachulia | SF - Draymond Green | PF - Kevin Durant

Houston Rockets projected starting lineup

PG - Chris Paul | SG - Eric Gordon | C - Clint Capela | SF - Trevor Ariza | PF - Ryan Anderson

Fantasy tip

Curry has scored 20 or more points in his last 17 games against the Rockets, averaging 25.9 points and 7.1 assists while shooting 41.5 percent from 3-point range and 49.7 percent overall. He had 22 in the first meeting between the teams this season, but his four assists were the fewest in those 17 contests.

Durant had 20 points and seven assists in the home loss to the Rockets but also committed eight turnovers. He has a streak of 12 20-point games against Houston that also includes six 30-point efforts and one of 42 as he's averaged 31.0 points and 8.3 rebounds in that span while shooting 49.8 percent.

Thompson's 33.1 percent shooting from beyond the arc in 22 lifetime matchups with Houston is his lowest mark against any Western Conference team, but he has made 13 of 30 (43.3 percent) while averaging 20.3 points in the last three meetings. Overall, Thompson is averaging 18.0 points against Houston while shooting 41.6 percent.

Green nearly had a triple-double in the first game with nine points, 11 rebounds and 13 assists. He has done significant damage against the Rockets as a distributor, averaging 12.0 points, 9.6 rebounds and 8.8 assists in the last eight matchups. Green has recorded one triple-double in that stretch and narrowly missed adding to that total on three other occasions.

Paul had four points and ten assists in the win at Golden State before suffering a knee injury late in the contest. That was the first time in 13 games he failed to reach double digits in points against the Warriors, but the veteran guard has averaged 22.3 points and 9.5 assists in 29 lifetime matchups, topping 40 points on two occasions.

Despite going zero for six from 3-point range in the win at Oracle Arena, Gordon finished with 24 points while shooting nine of 16 overall as he kept driving the baseline. He has averaged 16.7 points in 25 career games against the Warriors despite shooting just 38.5 percent.

Betting tip

There has been no betting line established because both teams are playing on back-to-back nights, but the Warriors have a few trends in their favor. They are 5-1 against the spread in their last six games at Houston and 10-4 in the last 14 meetings overall between the teams.

Golden State are also 6-2 against the spread in their last eight versus Southwest Division opponents and an impressive 13-5 versus the number in their last 18 road games against teams with a home winning percentage of .600 or better. One negative trend is they are 2-5 against the spread in their last seven road games against teams with a winning home record.

Houston covered for the first time in their last seven games with Wednesday's win in Orlando but are 1-6 against the spread in their last seven games playing on the back end of games on back-to-back nights. The Rockets have failed to cover in their last four contests against conference opponents and are 1-4 against the spread in their last five home games.

The over easily hit in Houston's win in October, clearing the 231 total points by 12. The under has hit in the last four meetings between the teams at the Toyota Center, but the over has hit in Houston's last five home games with a band ranging from 214 to 226 points. 

Prediction

The Curry versus Paul match will be worth of the price of admission, not only for their scoring capabilities, but also as they direct their respective offenses to put their teammates in favorable positions to score. Sometimes it's something as simple as a pick-and-roll, sometimes it's a properly spun entry pass into the low post, but the variety of ways it will take place in this game is a basketball purist's delight.

This is an area where Paul must excel if the Rockets are to win because they rely on offense from spots on the court almost as much as having the right players at those spots to shoot. That was why Gordon impacted the first meeting as much as he did because he waited for his defender to get drawn higher as Harden and Paul penetrated into the lane before kicking out to him in the corner for his baseline drives.

That's what taking 3-pointers at an NBA-record pace (again) does for a team. Besides Harden, the one player the Rockets will deeply miss for this game is Mbah a Moute, who has been sidelined for ten games with a sore shoulder. His hustle plays impacted the first game, and his defensive versatility allowed D'Antoni to keep Capela on the bench since the center was a minus-23 in the 18 minutes he played in October.

Yet for as many things that went right for the Rockets in that game, they were only one point better and less than one second from leaving Oracle Arena with a loss, and that was with Harden. Golden State do not get fired up often, but after escaping with a last-second win at Dallas in a game where they may have been peeking ahead to their trip downstate, there is little doubt they will be highly motivated to even the season series.

It may be one of those games where the Warriors go full throttle early, but expect the Rockets to put up a fight before Golden State extend their road win streak to nine games with a 126-113 victory.

TV info

The game will be televised nationally on TNT and nationally in Canada on SportsNet One. Tip-off time is 8 pm EST.

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