Quakes-Vancouver --what to watch for

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Quakes-Vancouver --what to watch for

Programming note: Catch the Earthquakes (3-1-0) vs. Vancouver Whitecaps (2-0-2) at 4 p.m. Saturday on Comcast SportsNet California.

Joe Washington
CSNBayArea.com

SAN JOSE -- Joe Cannon returns to Buck Shaw Stadium Saturday evening with an opportunity to help his Vancouver Whitecaps (2-0-2) set an MLS record for longest shutout streak at the start of a season. The longtime Earthquake still holds franchise records for appearances and shutouts and will be facing an Earthquakes team that is off to its best start since its return to San Jose five years ago.

Reports from the San Jose Mercury News said that chief rabble rouser and target forward Stephen Lenhart shut it down midway through practice Thursday with a tight hamstring and will be re-evaluated as to whether or not he will be able to play Saturday.

After missing half of last season with bereavement issues, Lenhart has progressively kicked more and more of the rust off his game and has become more and more of a factor. He's constantly in the middle of every dustup and relentlessly getting on the nerves of his opponents. Last week, he earned a penalty kick away from the ball by inducing a frustrated defender into tripping him in the penalty area 45 feet away from the ball. Chris Wondolowski proceeded to convert it for the games only goal.

Should Lenhart be unable to play, his absence should not have as drastic an impact as it did last year. In fact, it may make the Quakes even more dangerous. This could give coach Frank Yallop an opportunity to put a more skilled group on the field. It will be interesting to see if Tressor Moreno and Simon Dawkins will get an opportunity to play together. Neither saw significant minutes last week but have tremendous skill. Yallop could also call upon Turkish striker Sercan Guvenisik, who did some really impressive things in the preseason, especially when teamed with Wondolowski.

In eight combined matches this season, San Jose and Vancouver have yet to yield a goal in the run of play. The Quakes' lone goal came off a foul by goalie John Busch (and yes, it was a foul). Captain Ramiro Corrales came out of last weeks game in the second half with a sprained ankle. Yallop chose to replace him in the middle with veteran defender Jason Hernandez and move Justin Morrow to the outside left position. Many fans are eager to see Ike Opara on the field despite his struggles with the national team in the Olympic qualifiers, especially in the 2-0 loss to Canada.

In most sports, this is when the players or coaches would declare, somethings got to give, but in soccer, thats not necessarily true. The teams could play to a 0-0 tie and continue to prove their defensive prowess. My prediction is a 3-1 victory for San Jose. Goals by Dawkins, Moreno and Wondolowski.

Whats your prediction?

News and notesDefense key to early success
Four matches into the 2012 season and the San Jose Earthquakes have surrendered only one goal; and that off a penalty kick. They are proving to themselves and the rest of the league they are going to be a factor in the quest for the 2012 MLS Cup. Each year there is turnover on the roster, but the moves made this off season as a whole are the best management has made since the reformation of the team, especially on the defensive side of things.

Position by position, Frank Yallop has more quality players to choose from. The Quakes now have flexibility and options based on their opponents strengths which they have not shown in previous years. With the support of an aggressive combination of midfielders, it took most of the night for the explosive Seattle side to generate much offensively and the Quakes sent home about 40,000 Sounder fans unhappy.

San Jose has turned a massive weakness into one of its strengths. Through a series of moves and non-moves, management has put together a beautiful blend of developed young talent and veteran experience.

Victor Bernardez, the Honduran national team member, has been everything the Quakes said he would be and more. His tenacious attitude, size, strength, and fearlessness on the back line has virtually eliminated the seemingly weekly heartbreaks and bouts of bad luck that cursed the teams central defense last season. He is a closer defensively and is the main reason why the Quakes have held on to both of their 1-0 victories.

Equally impressive has been the growth of a couple of former mid-fielders on the back line, Justin Morrow and Steven Beitashour. Morrow has been an Earthquake for a while biding his time on the reserve unit. The left footer has the speed to track down any striker in the MLS and has developed his decision playing in reserve matches over the years to the point now where he has the full confidence of his teammates in either a central or left side defender. He has good ball skills which also helps the Quakes build their attack from the back. Morrow waited a long time to get a chance to play and has not faltered in any of his chances. He has been truly impressive.
Beitashour steps up
Steven Beitashour is in his third season with the Quakes and the San Jose native has made the right back position his own. He has become a lock down defender on the right side, consistently making good decisions on when to pressure and how to jump the passing lanes, especially on long balls. His speed and ball skills have helped create many scoring opportunities for the Quakes as well. In 2011, he led the team with 7 assists in 22 games. The end-zone angle of his run in the Toronto on March 24th, which created Shea Salinas goal in the 56th minute, perfectly displayed his speed, sense of timing, elusiveness and touch with the ball.
Opara ready
Waiting in the wings for his opportunity to crack the line up is Ike Opara who has spent a lot of the early season busy with the US National U23 team. Over the course of the long season, the Quakes could present the leagues most athletic back four if Opara comes in to the middle with Bernardez and Morrow plays left while Beitashour anchors down the right side. It would be difficult for any club to match that groups ball skills or speed or athleticism.

Finally, there are the two veterans who are extremely important to this equation. Ramiro Corrales started the first 4 games as the left back, suffered an injury in the Seattle game. If the injury is not serious, he will continue to be a solid option for coach Yallop. Jason Hernandez took his place after the injury. Hernandez has started 99 matches for the Quakes and played in his 100th match for Frank Yallop when he went in for Corrales. He is a smart and solid alternative at central defender and should one of the others need to sit for any reason, he will do an admirable job.

The Quakes' turnaround from a truly miserable campaign in 2011 is built on a firm defensive foundation as sturdy as Victor Bernardez on the ball. Too many times last year San Jose gave up late goals that cost them points in the standings. To a man, most of the team feels like last years squad would have squandered the 1-0 victories they have this year and they are thrilled with the new pieces that are preserving their hard work.

Joe Washington is a coordinating producer with Comcast SportsNet Bay Area and Comcast SportsNet California.

Green: Wins over Cavs, OKC and Rockets 'our best week of the season'

Green: Wins over Cavs, OKC and Rockets 'our best week of the season'

It may have helped that they had been at home for roughly three weeks.

It surely was to their benefit that the NBA schedule provided three days without a game before they confronted perhaps one of the most rigorous weeks of the season.

The Warriors, however, still had to do the work. They still had to finish.

They still had to beat the team that had roughed them up 22 days earlier, and then squelch another squad coming into Oracle Arena on a wave of emotion and, finally, take to the road and get back at a team that handed them a loss in Oakland.

Done, done and done. And in such a fashion that forward Draymond Green referred to it as “our best week of the season.”

In putting away the Rockets 125-108 on Friday in Houston, the Warriors closed out the traditional worker’s week with a 3-0 record against three teams they could see in the postseason. They’d already routed the defending champion Cavaliers 126-91 on Monday and struck down the Thunder 121-101 on Wednesday.

“It’s three good teams in a row,” Kevin Durant told reporters in Houston. “We definitely wanted to come out and make a nice statement, and I think we did that.

“We always can get better. We can’t relax against Orlando, Miami and Charlotte, teams that can creep up on you and have been playing well lately.”

The Magic, Heat and Hornets -- all dreadful to mediocre -- are the kinds of teams that force the Warriors to compete. They don’t stir the senses like the Cavs or the Thunder or the Rockets, three teams with credentials that demand attention from a Warriors team that sometimes cruises against lesser competition.

So this week was not just about winning games. These weren’t just wins, they were emphatic statements, profound evidence that the team remodeled last summer around the addition of Durant is coming together in the heart of the season.

The defense was tight, with Cleveland shooting 35.2 percent, OKC 42.2 percent and Houston 20.0 percent from beyond the arc, which is the only place that matters for the Rockets.

The Warriors resorted to one of their signature turbocharged third quarters to separate from the Rockets. Shooting 61.9 percent and scoring 9 points off Houston turnovers, the Warriors outscored Houston 37-22 in the third, stretching a five-point halftime lead to 20 going into the fourth quarter.

The Warriors now have an NBA-best differential of plus-250 points in the third quarter this season.

“It’s just something that we put an emphasis on,” Green said. “Coming out and getting off to a good start in the second half. Not coming out flat and giving another team life or letting them go on a run and then trying to make it up. And once we go on our run, we can get rolling pretty well and make it tough on other teams.”

That was the case this week, as the Warriors topped 50 percent from the field in all three victories.

Durant scored 32 points against Houston and averaged 31 points over the last three games. Stephen Curry put in 24 points and averaged 22.7 for the week. Green, meanwhile, averaged 12.7 points, 10.7 rebounds, 7.7 assists and 3.7 blocks.

“It was our best week of the season because we’ve gotten better each time we’ve stepped on the floor this week,” Green said. “And that’s what’s most important. It’s not about blasting these three teams. It’s about getting better, and trying to reach our end goal. In order to do that, you have to get better each and every time you step on the floor.

“We did that these three games, so that’s the most important thing. That’s why it’s been a good week, not because of the margin of the wins that we had.”

Instant Replay: Warriors ground Rockets, run win streak to six games

Instant Replay: Warriors ground Rockets, run win streak to six games

BOX SCORE

The Warriors avenged yet another loss Friday night, rolling into Houston and laying a 125-108 beating on the Rockets at Toyota Center.

All five Warriors starters scored in double figures, with Kevin Durant totaling 32 points to lead the way. Stephen Curry finished with 24 points, Klay Thompson with 16, Draymond Green with 15 and Zaza Pachulia added 10.

The Warriors (37-6) suffocated Houston’s high-powered offense, which is predicated on 3-point shooting, holding the Rockets to 20 percent (7-of-35) beyond the arc. The Warriors forced 15 turnovers, off which they scored 19 points.

Backup center Clint Capela scored 22 points to lead Houston (33-13). MVP candidate James Harden was held to 17 points on 6-of-13 shooting, including 0-of-5 from 3-point distance.

Having beaten the Cleveland Cavaliers on Monday, the Warriors this week evened the ledger against two elite teams. They lost to Houston on Dec. 1 in Oakland, 132-127, in double overtime that accounted for one of only three losses at Oracle Arena.

STANDOUT PERFORMER

The entire starting lineup played well, but Durant proved too much for anything the Rockets threw at him.

Durant’s line: 32 points (12-of-19 shooting from the field, including 2-of-7 from deep, 6-of-7 from the line), seven assists, four rebounds, two blocks and two steals. He played 34 minutes and was plus-25 for the game.

TURNING POINT

After Houston trimmed their lead to five (64-59) with 11:39 remaining in the third quarter, the Warriors responded with a 23-8 run, punctuated by a 28-foot 3-pointer by Curry to go up 87-67 with 5:58 left in the quarter.

The Warriors led by 20 entering the fourth quarter, and the Rockets got no closer than 15 over the final 12 minutes.

INJURY UPDATE

Warriors: C/F David West (L thumb fracture) was listed as out.

Rockets: F Ryan Anderson (flu) was listed as questionable but upgraded to available. He was in the starting lineup, but played only nine minutes before leaving for good.

WHAT’S NEXT

The Warriors return to action Sunday in Orlando, where they face the Magic at Amway Center. Tipoff is scheduled for noon Pacific.