The Golden State Warriors look to finally be walking out of a two-week funk. During that span, which saw the defending champions go 4-4, Golden State fell victim to a severe lack of ball movement, rim protection and, most of all, 3-point shooting.
After two straight convincing victories against the Portland Trailblazers and Phoenix Suns, Golden State will face a familiar foe in the Houston Rockets, led by reigning league MVP James Harden, who leads the NBA in scoring so far this season.
Here are three things to watch for when the Warriors take on the Rockets on Thursday night.
Containing The Bearded One
Besides Lakers forward LeBron James, the Warriors have faced Harden more than any player in the league over the last five seasons. Including playoff appearances, the Warriors have matched up with Harden’s Rockets 27 times.
In his last nine games against Golden State — including the seven-game Western Conference Finals — Harden has averaged 27.7 points, 6.7 assists and 6.4 free throw attempts. This season, Harden leads the league in scoring, averaging 33.3 points per night.
When asked if what Harden has been doing is Jordan-esque, Warriors head coach Steve Kerr said, “It’s Harden-esque.”
“We’re seeing the very best of James Harden,” Kerr continued. “He’s doing what he does: shooting his step-back threes, getting fouled. He’s playing with great confidence.”
On Thursday, the Warriors meet Harden once again in the prime-time lights on TNT. Golden State has already suffered four losses of at least 20 points at home during prime-time games this season. Their latest: a 127-101 blowout against the Lakers on Christmas Day.
In order for the Warriors to prevent a fifth and knock Harden off of his MVP-level play, they’ll need to play a disciplined style of ball that keeps Harden off of the free throw line and out of the net.
“It starts with habits,” Kerr said. “All of the basic stuff that every basketball coach has ever taught. If you do all of that, and you stay solid with your fundamentals, for us, because we’re as talented as we are, that usually gets the job done.”
Putting together a full game
Before their last two games against Portland and Phoenix, during an eight-game stretch fromDec. 12 and 27, the Warriors looked like a bottom-feeding NBA team rather than a defending champion in pursuit of a three-peat.
During that period, Golden State gave up over 114 points per game, allowed opponents to shoot over 46 percent from the field and shot only 31 percent themselves from three.
In their last two outings, however, Golden State looked to snap out of the two-week slumber, hitting 26 of 53 from 3-point land, holding the Trailblazers and Suns to 105 and 109 points, respectively, and keeping their opponents under 43 percent from the floor.
“I think part of the issue for us this year … has been our inability to put together 48 minutes.” Kerr said. “I just think the overall intent and the overall purpose with which we played over the last couple of games, we built some momentum. We went on some nice runs but we stayed with it … I think we got a lot closer in two games on the trip. And it’s got to continue.”
For the Warriors to build on their two-game winning streak, that same attention to detail will be immensely important, especially since the Rockets, since going 11-14 to start the season, have won 10 of their last 11. Houston has vaulted from out of the playoff conversation entirely to the No. 4 seed in the Western Conference, just three games behind Golden State.
Last year, Houston did win five of the 10 meetings against the Warriors, and already have the edge in 2018 thanks to a 107-86 win against the Warriors in November.
Eric Gordon has been ruled out
According to Jonathan Feigen of the Houston Chronicle, Rockets guard Eric Gordon (knee) has been ruled out against Golden State on Thursday night.
Gordon left Houston’s 108-104 win over New Orleans on Dec. 29 after bumping knees with a Pelicans player.
According to Adrian Wojnarowski of ESPN, Gordon underwent an MRI the following day, which revealed a bruised knee.
This season, Gordon is averaging 15.7 points per game while shooting 38 percent from the floor, including 30 percent from the three-point line.
Coming off of the bench last season for Houston, Gordon’s scoring punch helped lead the Rockets to a franchise-best 65-17 record, earning them the No. 1 seed in the Western Conference.
Gordon was also named a finalist for the 6th Man of the Year award last season.