Rockets vs. Warriors preview: Playoff tiebreaker is at stake

USA TODAY Sports

The Warriors and Rockets are set to clash on ESPN at 10:30 p.m. ET on Friday night. Will James Harden dismantle the Warriors' defense?

The Golden State Warriors and Houston Rockets are battling for position in the Western Conference playoff bracket, and on Friday night one of those two teams will lose ground in the tight race. Home court advantage is out of reach. The Warriors are 6.5 games back of the Memphis Grizzlies for the No. 4 seed, and the Rockets trail Golden State by two games for the No. 6 seed.

Meanwhile, the Los Angeles Lakers are 7-3 in their last 10 games and waiting for at least one playoff team to slip up. There are four teams battling for the final three spots out West. The Rockets can clinch the head-to-head tiebreaker over the Warriors with a win, while Golden State would need to win the remaining two meetings to tie the series and initiate the secondary tiebreaker (conference record).

Golden State is 20-7 at ORACLE Arena this season and Houston is just 13-20 on the road, but a few tactical advantages may give the Rockets a slight edge. The Warriors are just two-point favorites to win at home, according to Odds Shark. The Rockets love to spread the floor with James Harden working the middle of the floor and three-point shooters spaced in the corners and around the arc to stretch the defense.

When the Rockets and Warriors clashed on Feb. 5, it was a bloodbath. Houston racked up 140 points and set a franchise record (and tied an NBA record) with 23 made three-point shots as eight Rockets players scored in double figures in a 31-point blowout. Houston prevailed again in a rematch on Feb. 12.

At Golden State of Mind, that Feb. 5 game is put into the proper perspective heading into a very important contest:

In that first game, Mark Jackson had no answer for the three point bombardment we witnessed, which opened the floodgates in subsequent games and, one must wonder, may have been the first documented blueprint for how to dismantle the Warriors' then-slightly-above-average defense. Ever since, we've been exposed to schemes and hot-streak shooters that have but us on our heels and left us fans looking for answers.

But surely that initial shellacking, that meteor shower Houston unleashed, and the subsequent ball movement-fueled dissection and Chandler Parsons career performance can't be the new standard in these mutual matchups going forward. And surely there is still a smoldering ember of defensive effort hidden under the ashes of February that Jackson can fire up with his rhetorical bellows.

The Rockets have the No. 4 offense in the NBA in terms of efficiency, and they play at a breakneck pace. The game is expected to be a shootout, as the over/under is 221 points. The game will be televised on ESPN at 10:30 p.m. ET.

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