The Houston Rockets and Golden State Warriors are both battling to solidify spots in the Western Conference playoff picture. The Rockets are in eighth place, two games clear of ninth, and the Warriors have a five-game cushion in sixth place.
Neither team is a lock to clinch a postseason berth, though. With the Portland Trail Blazers, Los Angeles Lakers and Dallas Mavericks all lurking, there is very little margin for error.
This fact adds some urgency to Tuesday's matchup for the Warriors, who have dropped four straight.
The Rockets are a dangerous team. They are still working to find some consistency on the defensive end, but they rank second in scoring and feature six players averaging double figures in points. Even marginal defensive improvement will spark a run.
It should be an exciting shootout in Oracle Arena on Tuesday night. Let's take a glance at all the key information for the Western Conference clash, followed by players to watch, projected lineups and a game prediction.
Where: Oracle Arena in Oakland, Calif.
When: Tuesday, Feb. 12 at 10:30 p.m. ET
Watch: NBA TV
Live Stream: NBA League Pass
Key Injuries (via USA Today)
Rockets: No injuries reported.
Warriors: Andrew Bogut (questionable, ankle) and Jarrett Jack (questionable, shoulder)
Houston's loss to the Sacramento Kings summed up its issues perfectly. The Rockets shot 49 percent from the field, had nearly double the amount of assists as they did turnovers and made 10 threes.
Yet, they still lost by six.
They simply aren't playing good enough defense to make their offensive efforts pay off. It starts with the backcourt tandem of Jeremy Lin and James Harden, who scored 42 points in that loss, but still finished with a minus-11 combined rating.
Which player will lead the game in scoring?
This is not a major surprise. Neither of them were considered elite defenders coming into the season. They should, by sheer effort, be able to get better results on that end of the floor, though. The team's defense must improve to make some noise come playoff time.
As for the Warriors, depth is a concern. That's especially true in a game like this, which will feature a lot of running up and down the floor as the Rockets attempt to control the pace. Two players who need to step up are Andrew Bogut and Harrison Barnes.
Golden State is rightfully going to take it slow with Bogut, who hasn't played a full season since his rookie year. But when he is unavailable, the Warriors don't have enough talent up front to compete in the paint on a nightly basis.
Barnes' role is purely that of a scorer. Stephen Curry and Klay Thompson give the Warriors two perimeter scorers. If Barnes can become a more consistent third option on the outside, it will allow for more flexibility down the stretch.
Key Matchup: Jeremy Lin vs. Stephen Curry
Many wondered how the move to Houston would affect Lin, who seemed to thrive under the bright lights of New York City. As it turns out, it didn't make much of an impact. His overall numbers haven't seen any major swings.
Lin should get a chance to shine in this matchup, which features two players who can stack the score sheet, but aren't known for their defensive prowess. There should be a lot of back-and-forth possessions where they go shot for shot.
One overlooked aspect of Golden State's season so far is Curry's improvement as a point guard. His decision-making skills have improved markedly since his rookie season, allowing him to lead a more efficient offensive attack.
X-Factor: Omer Asik
After failing to make an impact with the Chicago Bulls, Asik has found a niche for himself with the Rockets. He is averaging 11 points, 12 rebounds and a block in 30 minutes per game, while shooting 54 percent from the floor.
He is not a flashy player, but he provides a much-needed post presence for the Rockets. Coupled with the development of Patrick Patterson, Houston's play in the paint hasn't been the major issue it was expected to be entering the season.
The Warriors have a solid interior tandem of their own in Lee and Bogut, assuming he returns to the starting lineup after a game off to rest. That puts added pressure on Asik to defend the lane and force Golden State into a lot of jumpers.
Predicted Starting Lineups
PG: Jeremy Lin
SG: James Harden
SF: Chandler Parsons
PF: Patrick Patterson
C: Omer Asik
PG: Stephen Curry
SG: Klay Thompson
SF: Harrison Barnes
PF: David Lee
C: Andrew Bogut
The Warriors are reeling. They have lost four straight and are giving up 119 points per game over that span. That includes a meeting between these two teams last week when the Rockets drained 23 threes en route to 140 points.
This matchup will play right into Houston's hands. Any game where they can get out and run, which lessens the importance of defense, is to their advantage. Golden State must find a way to turn the tide, likely by turning up the pressure early.
Don't expect Houston to catch fire from downtown like they did last time, which will suppress their point total a bit. Still, it should be a high-scoring game with plenty of defense-optional possessions. Slight edge to the Rockets given the recent form of both teams.
Rockets 104, Warriors 100