OAKLAND – Perfection rarely lasts in sports and either the Warriors or the Rockets will lose theirs Saturday night in Houston. Meanwhile, there is sweet anticipation of the first meeting of NBA teams with records of 4-0 or better since 2001.
“Two undefeated teams,” Warriors center Andrew Bogut pondered. “I guess that's what it's all about.”
As flawless as the Warriors (4-0) have been, the Rockets (6-0) have been even better. Houston is off to its best start in 18 years, winning its first six games by an average of 14.7 points – and all by double digits.
“Both teams are playing really good, so something's got to give,” guard Klay Thompson said. “People had kind of written Houston off before the season started. But they're proving people wrong.”
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Rockets general manager Daryl Morey took more than his share of preseason criticism around the league. Houston lost Chandler Parsons and traded Jeremy Lin. Morey went hard after free agent Chris Bosh and failed to get him.
Houston still has All-Star guard James Harden and All-Star center Dwight Howard, and those two, when playing well, can conceal of lot of deficiencies. And veteran wing Trevor Ariza has been superb replacing Parsons. Jason Terry, 37, has had his moments.
Programming note: Warriors-Rockets coverage starts today at 4:30 p.m. with Warriors Pregame Live on Comcast SportsNet Bay Area.
The most surprising element in the Rockets' start, according to Warriors coach Steve Kerr, has been their defense. It has been terrific. After allowing 44.3 percent shooting last season, they're holding opponents to 39.9 percent, best in the league.
“As an analyst last year, watching Houston, I thought what was missing was that defensive edge,” Kerr said. “They were good at times, but watching them in the early going this year – and playing against them in Texas in the preseason – to me they've found a defensive edge that may not have been there last year.”
That will tested by a Warriors squad averaging a league-best 109.5 points per game, with their 50.5 percent shooting also leading the league.
MATCHUPS TO WATCH: Thompson vs. Harden. Harden, an offensive wizard, will try to take Thompson to school. Expect mixed results. But Thompson is capable of torching Harden on the other end, which could force Houston coach Kevin McHale to turn to defensive ace Trevor Ariza.
“He's a great shooter, he's great at getting to the line, he's great at finishing above the rim and he's an underrated passer,” Thompson said of Harden.
Bogut vs. Howard. Two of the more physical centers in the league, they have swapped personal wins over the years. Bogut will try to pull Howard out of the paint, and Howard will try to out-jump Bogut near the rim. Fouls could be a factor.
“He's an amazing athlete, very physical and very athletic,” Bogut said of Howard. “I just try to limit his dunks, his alley-oops, his offensive rebounds. Just make him score with touch and hooks around the basket. Some games he gets it going. But if he scores 30 or 35 points and none of them are dunks, that's a job well done.”
KEYS TO VICTORY: 1) Park on the arc. The Rockets surround Howard with the creative Harden and other 3-point shooters who thrive on open looks. 2) Wipe the glass. The Warriors were solid rebounders last season and they need to get back to that against a team that looks to grab and go. 3) Pace and pressure. Even with Lee out, the Warriors have superior depth and must use it to wear down the Rockets.
INJURY REPORT: Warriors – F Lee (strained left hamstring) is on the trip with the team but remains out indefinitely. He will be reevaluated the week of Nov. 16.
Rockets – F Terrence Jones (right leg contusion) and G Patrick Beverly (hamstring) are listed as out.
SERIES HISTORY: The Warriors have lost 17 of their last 21 against the Rockets – losing the season series in each of the past six years – including nine of the last 10 meetings in Houston.