Warriors vs. Rockets Preview: Which Undefeated Team Has Had the Better Start?
There was so much preseason talk about how great the San Antonio Spurs and the Cleveland Cavaliers would be in 2014-15, but after 11 days of the NBA season, they sit at 13th and 15th respectively on our power rankings. Yes, it's early and there is a ridiculously large amount of basketball left to be played, but tonight's showdown between our 1st- and 2nd-ranked teams looks to be the marquee matchup of the season-to-date.
At 8 PM EST tonight, the number-two Golden State Warriors (team nERD of 75.0, 4-0 record) head to Houston to play the number-one Rockets (team nERD of 84.7, 6-0 record) and it's going to be all kinds of fun. One of these two teams will join the Memphis Grizzlies as the only undefeated squad left in the Association, while the other will deal with suffering its first defeat of the season.
We know these teams have been good, but just how good? What should you be looking out for in tonight's game?
Total Team Effort
Both of these teams are getting it done in a big way on both ends of the floor. The Rockets have our third-best offensive rating at 111.8, while the Warriors come in at 10th with 108.7. Houston gets the slight edge there, but Golden State has the league's top defense at 93.1, while the Rockets trail closely behind in third with 96.1. The resulting net ratings of 15.7 for the Rockets and 15.6 for the Warriors are eerily close and easily the two best in the league.
What's propelling both teams on the offensive end is their stellar efficiency rates. The Warriors are the top team in the league in terms of true shooting percentage (weighted twos, threes, and free throws), posting 61.3%. Just behind them in second is the Rockets, who are putting up an equally impressive 59.5%. The Warriors are getting it done with a league-best 83.2% from the line on a healthy 25.3 free throw attempts per game, while the Rockets are upping their points per possession by making it rain from downtown, hitting a league-best 43.1% of their 31.3 three-pointers per contest (the second-most taken of any team in the Association).
Edge: Rockets, ever so slightly.
Quality of Record
The Rockets have benefited from a pretty easy schedule so far, with wins coming against bottom-feeders like the Lakers (30th), Jazz (26th), Celtics (22nd), and Sixers (29th), and a Spurs team (13th) that was resting future Hall-of-Famers Tim Duncan and Manu Ginobili. They did a great job of beating up on our 11th-ranked team, the Miami Heat, but it was their only signature win so far this season.
The Rockets' .457 strength of schedule so far has been the eighth-easiest in the league, while the Warriors have had the second-hardest at .614, handing Sacramento (19th) their only defeat of the season so far, then going on to beat the Lakers (30th), Trail Blazers (4th), and Clippers (9th). Both teams have been impressive in posting undefeated records, but the Warriors have had the harder path to getting there, even if they've had two fewer wins than the Rockets.
Five of the top nine player on our NBA Player Power Rankings will be on display in tonight's game:
Yup, that's five way-too-early-but-still-fun-to-talk-about MVP candidates in one game.
James Harden is putting up video game numbers so far, averaging 26.0 points, 6.7 rebounds, 7.2 assists, 1.3 steals, and 1.3 blocks per game (hey look, defense!), while shooting 91.4% from the line on a league-leading 11.7 attempts per contest.
You might not actually call Trevor Ariza an MVP, but he has been a beacon off efficiency since his move from Washington to Houston, shooting 51.7% from the floor, 55.0% from long range, and 91.7% from the charity stripe (true shooting percentage of 72.8%).
Stephen Curry has been a fantasy basketball stud, putting up 26.0 points, 6.5 rebounds, 7.0 assists, and a league-leading 3.0 steals per contest, while shooting 44.4% from the field and a silly 96.8% from the line (he's missed only one of his 31 attempts).
Klay Thompson looks to be worth all that money, as he's second in the league in scoring with 27.0 points per game, trailing only Kobe Bryant's 27.6 (although Kobe should have to cede the crown to Klay for taking 24.4 shots per game versus Klay's 16.8 to get there and having a true shooting percentage over 20% lower).
Dwight Howard looks to be regaining his dominant form from his Orlando Magic days, posting averages of 19.7 points, 11.5 rebounds, 1.0 steal, and 1.8 blocks per contest, while shooting a career-high 62.5% from the floor.
Edge: Rockets, simply because three is more than two and Harden's nERD is currently better than any we've ever recorded.
Both teams have been awesome.
Regardless of who wins, this game will be ridiculously fun to watch. With an over/under of a combined 207.5 points (the Warriors are the league's fastest-paced team at 102.98 possessions per 48 minutes) and a variety of amazing season-long and daily fantasy options to stack, there's nothing not to like here. Picking a favorite is hard, but we'll say the Rockets.
Houston is our number-one team until proven otherwise. They are the only team in our top-three for both offensive and defensive efficiency and are tied with the Grizzlies for the most wins in the NBA. Harden is our top-rated player and Ariza and Dwight both rank in the top nine. At the end of the day, both these teams look incredible, but Houston gets the edge above all else for being the home team in a close matchup between two titans. Of course, a Warriors win would almost certainly negate a lot of those things and put them on top instead.
Man, is it 8pm yet?
To see who the algorithms like tonight, click here.