NBA Picks: Golden State Warriors at Houston Rockets

Disappearing Dwight: His 13.1 points per game is his lowest average since his rookie season in 2004-05.
Disappearing Dwight: His 13.1 points per game is his lowest average since his rookie season in 2004-05.

Golden State Warriors at Houston Rockets
Time: 6 PM CT (NBA LP)
Spread: HOU -2.5
Total: 210

Betting odds c/o 5dimes

All indications are that this Golden State Warriors team without Stephen Curry just does not cut it. Curry is scheduled to miss his second straight game and the Warriors were badly outplayed by the Dallas Mavericks last game in falling 114-91.

The Warriors will find itself 2.5 point underdogs against a Houston Rockets team that has struggled through the first third of this NBA season.

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Without Curry (leg), the Warriors were expected to rely heavily on 2-guard Klay Thompson, which it most certainly did. The problem was that Klay hit just 4 of 15 from the field and Brandon Rush was misfiring as well, having connected on just 1 of 6 from behind the arc.

Pair the perimeter’s struggles with an off game from Draymond Green and the recipe was there for defeat. The Warriors trailed by 18 at the half. Guard Ian Clark had a nice game off the bench with 21 points on 8 of 12 shooting, but he still had a plus/minus of -9, the best of all Warriors save Jason Thompson, who played just 10 minutes in the game.

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The Warriors are going to need more from Curry’s replacement Shaun Livingston who had a humble eight points and four assists in the loss.

Livingston has had a disappointing career derailed by a bad knee injury, but he is still a highly skilled guard capable of giving Houston’s smaller point guards problems. He had 16 points on an 8 of 9 shooting night in the win over Cleveland on Christmas day, and similar theatrics are needed for the Warriors to prevail tonight.

The Warriors also must get more from center Andrew Bogut. While Bogut’s offense has certainly declined from his days in Milwaukee, he needs to attempt more than four field goals as he did in the Warriors’ loss to Dallas. Bout is averaging just 5.6 points this season while attempting 3.9 shots per game, but he is hitting 67 percent from the field on those attempts. Over his career he has attempted over twice that rate at 8.8 per game, and the closest thing he has had to a vintage performance was his 10 point, 13 rebound effort in a win over the Utah Jazz on Dec 23.

The Rockets have lost two straight since its win over San Antonio on Christmas day. With a two-point loss to the New Orleans Pelicans and a 121-115 loss to the Atlanta Hawks, the Rockets have fallen below .500 again at 16-17. This team just cannot seem to get momentum, and many wonder if the “core problem” interim head coach J.B. Bickerstaff keeps referring to might not just be “James Harden.”

For as good as Harden can be at times, it seems he takes his teammates out of their games. It is much like the effect seen with Carmelo Anthony. These superstars that need the ball in their hands to be effective tend to make secondary and tertiary options all but disappear in the offense.

Harden ostensibly can pass as a non-ball hog due to his assist numbers, but his usage rate is too high and Dwight Howard is barely getting his looks at the basket. Howard indicated he is in Houston for the long haul, but he has to be growing only more agitated with the lack of post touches.

Howard is averaging just 13.1 points per game on 8.3 field goal attempts per game. It is his lowest average since his rookie season in 2004-05. Howard attempted over 13 field goals per game in Orlando in back-to-back seasons, and he is still a valuable No. 2 option on almost any team. But with Harden jacking up 19.8 shots per game, including eight from behind the arc, the chances for Howard and others have evaporated.

Howard had 30 points on 10 of 12 shooting last game in the loss to the Hawks, so perhaps that is a good omen of things to come for the three-time Defensive Player of the Year. The Hawks have a tough frontcourt and Howard had 16 boards and three assists in the game, as well.

On the defensive end he came up with both a steal and a block, but the Hawks got 78 points from its starting frontcourt of Kent Bazemore, Al Horford and Paul Millsap.  Atlanta also shot 14 of 41 from three-point range while finishing with just 12 turnovers to the Rockets’ 19.

Trevor Ariza, Marcus Thornton and Terrance Jones all provide some outside shooting, but Ariza has not been hitting at a high clip (32.6 percent threes on 5.9 attempts per game). Thornton is knocking down 1.8 per game at a 36.8 percent mark, while Jones is the most efficient at 41.3 percent on 1.7 attempts per game. The Rockets hit 10.5 threes per night while shooting 34.6 percent as a team.

If Houston can do a better job of taking care of the basketball it could catch the Warriors on a night when victory is more attainable. The Warriors have enough depth and surrounding talent that playing without Curry should not be a death blow, and the NBA odds are close enough at 2.5 points in favor of Houston.

Interim head coach Luke Walton has done a great job of utilizing the best rotations, but a lot of this game will fall on the shoulders of Livingston, Thompson and Rush. That trio must play at a high level because Harden will come out firing in smelling blood in the Curry-less Warriors.

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