Houston Rockets at Golden State Warriors (-10.5, 203.5)
Tonight, the Houston Rockets will clash with the Golden State Warriors in San Francisco in a matchup of two of the NBA’s best teams (10:30 p.m. Eastern). At 18-2, the Warriors own the best record in the league and sit atop the Pacific Division. Meanwhile, the 16-4 Rockets are just half a game back of Memphis in the robust Southwest.
The Rockets will travel to California riding a four-game winning streak. Last week, Houston downed Milwaukee, Memphis, Minnesota, and Phoenix and seem to have learned to win without the center Dwight Howard. Howard remains sidelined with a knee injury and, according to coach Kevin McHale, “won’t be back anytime soon.”
Without Howard on the floor – and power forward Terrence Jones also injured – Houston has had to reach way down the bench to Lithuanian power forward Donatas Motiejunas. The seven-footer is averaging 13.1 PPG and 7.0 RPG over his last ten, and now regularly plays 30+ minutes per night.
So, if the Rockets are rolling and can win without D-12, then why are they a double-digit dog?
Because star forward James Harden is suffering from back spasms.
While Houston has a strong supporting cast, Harden is the motor that keeps the bus moving. The former Arizona State Sun Devil is averaging over 25 points per game (11 more than their next healthy player) and chips in with nearly seven assists and seven rebounds per night.
If Harden can’t go, veteran Jason Terry is likely to take his spot. Terry is a dynamic scorer, but won’t be able to fill the void left by Harden.
The other factor leading to the big spread is Golden State’s recent dominance. The Warriors put Houston’s four-game winning streak to shame, coming in on a 13-game winning streak of their own. Last Saturday, they traveled to the United Center and dominated the Bulls (112-102), who had both Derrick Rose and Joakim Noah in the lineup. On Monday, they routed the reeling Timberwolves in Minnesota (102-86).
Led by dynamic guards Steph Curry and Klay Thompson, Golden State has the fourth-best offense in the league (106.8 PPG). What has turned them from a playoff hopeful into a dominant force, however, is the defense. The Warriors are third in the league in rebounding (45.6 RPG) and sixth in points allowed (95.7 PPG).
With Howard out, Warriors center Andrew Bogut could have a field-day on the glass, if he plays. The seven-footer, who averages over nine boards per game, is questionable with a knee injury.
If Bogut can’t go, Draymond Green (6.4 RPG) and Harrison Barnes (7.7 RPG) will have to pick up the rebounding slack.
Houston has won seven of the last ten against Golden State. But, with Harden laboring, at best, and Howard on the shelf, the red-hot Warriors should extend their overall winning streak to 14.
(Photo credit: Noah Salzman (Own work) [CC-BY-SA-3.0 (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/3.0)], via Wikimedia Commons. Photo has been cropped.)
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