Steve Kerr and the Warriors will be chasing milestones Tuesday night in Houston.
A victory over the Rockets would make Kerr the fastest coach to reach 200 wins -- he enters the game at Toyota Center with a record of 199-38 -- and also would make the Warriors the sixth NBA team to post three consecutive seasons with at least 60 wins.
The Warriors (59-14) will be underdogs despite winning seven in a row in the quest to maintain their grip on the No. 1 overall seed for the postseason.
The Rockets (51-22), who have won their last four games, averaging 122 points, are practically locked into the No. 3 seed in the Western Conference.
Rockets by 1
MATCHUP TO WATCH
Klay Thompson vs. James Harden: Harden is, by most projections, the leading candidate for MVP. He’s scoring (29.4 points per game), playmaking (11.3 assists), rebounding (8.0) and even occasionally playing defense. He’s also shooting higher than 50 percent over his past 12 games. He’s incredibly difficult to contain, but Thompson has accepted the challenge since the two were prep competitors in Southern California. The good news for the Warriors is that Harden will take plays off on defense. Though Thompson is capable of cooking anyone the Rockets throw at him, the Warriors are in trouble if Harden dictates the action.
Warriors: F Kevin Durant (L knee sprain, bone bruise) is listed as out. C Damian Jones is on assignment with Santa Cruz of the NBA Development League.
Rockets: F Ryan Anderson (R ankle sprain) is listed as out.
Warriors: 7-3. Rockets: 7-3.
Though the teams split two meetings earlier this season, the Warriors have won nine of the last 10 overall, dating back to 2013. The teams have met in each of the past two postseasons, with the Warriors taking a first-round series in five games in 2016 and winning the Western Conference Finals in five in 2015.
THREE THINGS TO WATCH
SCOREBOARD ON FIRE: The Warriors (115.9 points per game) and Rockets (115.8) rank 1-2 in scoring. Houston launches a league-high 40.3 3-pointers per game, while the Warriors are fifth, at 31.1 per game. The Warriors (56.2) and Rockets (55.0) also are 1-2 in adjusted field-goal percentage. It must be noted, though, that the Warriors are the superior defensive team.
STEPH AND THE PEST: Patrick Beverley fancies himself a great defender, delights in harassing opponents and takes particular glee in irritating Curry. The two have long been familiar with each other; both were members of the 2009 draft. Curry relishes every opportunity to torch Beverley, so there may be early fireworks.
THE BENCHES: Even with rotation changes necessitated by the injury to Anderson, Houston has one of the league’s deadliest benches, averaging 39.3 points per game (fifth in the NBA). The Warriors also have made adjustments in the wake of losing Durant. They average 31.7 points (23rd). The Warriors must find a way to neutralize Rockets Sixth Man Lou Williams.
Programming note: Warriors-Rockets coverage starts today at 4pm with Warriors Pregame Live on CSN Bay Area, and streaming live right here.
The Warriors left town Monday atop the Western Conference, on the wings of a seven-game win streak and staring into the most consequential 30 hours of the season.
They’re at Houston on Tuesday night, and the explosive Rockets, third in the Western Conference, have emerged as a legitimate threat to reach the NBA Finals.
Immediately after that game, the Warriors make the roughly 200-mile trip to San Antonio for a Wednesday night battle with the Spurs, the most consistent contender of this generation -- and the team whose footsteps are cluttering the ears of the Warriors.
Winning both games is conceivable only if they reach the level of lights-out defense that has been essential to their recovery in the wake of losing Kevin Durant. A sweep also stretches the boundaries of probability.
A split would be acceptable, under the circumstances, particularly if the victory is over the Spurs.
Losing both games would slice into the Warriors’ hopes of maintaining the No. 1 overall seed for the playoffs.
The Warriors say they are ready. And coach Steve Kerr insists they are rested.
“We should have our guard up and we should be ready to roll,” Kerr says. “We are playing well. We’ve got to keep it going.”
The Warriors (59-14) own the best record in the NBA and have a two-game lead over the Spurs (57-16). A win over the Rockets (51-22) would guarantee the Warriors would finish ahead of Houston.
Here’s the rub: The Warriors are 0-2 against the Spurs and 1-1 against the Rockets.
“We know it’s a tough trip,” Draymond Green says. “The Rockets are playing well and, also, San Antonio is playing well.
“But you know, we’re going there and play a hard game, which we’ve done a good job of as of late. We’re going there with a defensive mindset and everything else will fall into place, and we’ll be just fine.”
Defense has been the hallmark of the Warriors for much of this season, and certainly over the past seven games, during which they have led the league in defensive rating. The lockdowns generally start with Green, but the efforts of his teammates, particularly Andre Iguodala, also have allowed the Warriors to play some of their most efficient offense of the season.
They’ve managed to post an NBA-best 99.0 defensive rating this month despite the absence of Durant, who had been stellar on defense and, overall, the team’s best player.
No opponent in the NBA tests defenses to the degree the Rockets do. With MVP candidate James Harden orchestrating things, they’re second in scoring (115.8 points per game), just behind the Warriors (115.9), and their 25.4 assists per game is No. 2, behind the Warriors’ 30.4. Moreover, Houston is No. 1 in 3-point makes and attempts. They average 14.7 threes per game; the Warriors are fourth at 12.0.
“You’ve got to be really disciplined against these guys,” Kerr says. “That means sticking to your principles but not getting frustrated when they do make shots. They make tough shots. But as long as they’re tough ones, and not easy ones, and you stay with it, you can get through it.
"We played a really disciplined game here last time and won in this building. That’s what it takes. We’ll see if we can do it again.”
Doing so won’t make the next night, San Antonio, any easier. It will be different, given the Spurs’ shooting accuracy and offensive proficiency, but no less challenging.