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Stage set for Warriors-Rockets matchup with major play-in ramifications


Seven games still remain for the Warriors, but the suddenly clicking club can essentially secure a play-in spot on Thursday in Houston.

A win against the Rockets at the Toyota Center would vault the Warriors four full games ahead of Houston in the standings. The Warriors already own the tiebreaker against the Rockets, so their lead would effectively be five games with only six left on the schedule, making the Warriors’ path to falling completely out of the playoffs akin to filling out a March Madness bracket with a perfect Final Four.

Every game has been crucial for the Warriors for weeks. They put themselves in that position by failing to protect their home court, blowing several big leads, and losing Draymond Green for a quarter of the season. A conference Steve Kerr has called the deepest he’s ever seen hasn’t helped their cause.

And while every game after the All-Star break has required a heightened sense of urgency from Golden State, none have the type of direct, tangible ramifications as the Rockets tilt.

The Rockets surged in March by winning 11 straight games and drawing as close as a half-game behind Golden State for 10th in the West. But now, after the Rockets have lost two straight and the Warriors have won five in a row, Golden State can bury them.

“Tomorrow will be an opportunity to end their season, their playoff hopes,” Draymond Green said on his podcast.

Although the current Rockets aren’t the same as the squads of yesteryear that met Golden State in intense playoff series, there’s bad blood.

As the Rockets tore through a soft pocket of their schedule and hoisted themselves up into striking distance of the Warriors, Green said he didn’t “give a damn” about them. Soon after, Rockets forward Tari Eason taunted them in a social media video with the classic Warriorrs! Come out to Playy! 

Houston also employs Dillon Brooks, who injured Gary Payton II in the 2022 Western Conference semifinals and routinely instigated the Warriors when he played for Memphis.

The on-court drama is even more compelling. Houston lost star center Alperen Sengun to a serious ankle injury on March 12, but then ripped off eight straight victories without him. Young guard Jalen Green is playing at by far the highest level of his career, averaging 30.8 points, 7.3 rebounds and 4.3 assists while shooting over 50% from the field and 40% from 3 since Sengun’s injury.

Green will be a handful for Golden State, which has meanwhile found its defensive footing. In their past five games, the Warriors rank second in the NBA in defensive rating (102.9). They’ve coalesced behind a dialed-in Draymond Green, a bigger role for Trayce Jackson-Davis, a commitment to tracking back in transition. (The NBA’s new environment with fewer foul calls has also helped Golden State, historically a high-foul defense.)

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Source:: The Mercury News – Entertainment

      

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