Two teams experiencing opposite ends of the back-to-back difficulty spectrum hook up Saturday night when the Houston Rockets and Golden State Warriors meet in San Francisco.
Both clubs will be playing a second game in two days, with the Rockets having stunned the Phoenix Suns on the road 122-121on Friday night before the Warriors, starting an hour later, put away the visiting Chicago Bulls 119-111.
Any advantage gained by the Rockets with the earlier starting time was lost -- and then some -- in the 90-minute flight between Phoenix and San Francisco early Saturday morning for a meeting with the defending champions.
That said, it no doubt was a very enjoyable trip for the Rockets, whose win allowed them to escape the Western Conference cellar at the expense of the San Antonio Spurs.
"That's how we fight," Rockets guard Kevin Porter Jr. shouted in a triumphant locker room after the game. "Fight to the end, baby."
That almost wasn't enough for the Rockets, who watched as the Suns, down by one point, used two offensive rebounds and a steal in order to get off four potential go-ahead shots in the final 19 seconds. Phoenix missed all four.
The Warriors, meanwhile, notched their ninth straight victory in San Francisco. Coupled with losses by Boston and Phoenix, Golden State tied the Cleveland Cavaliers for the best home record in the NBA at 10-1.
The Warriors and Rockets dueled in Houston on Nov. 20 when Golden State was on the front end of a back-to-back. The Rockets took the visitors to the wire in that one, prompting Warriors coach Steve Kerr to burn four starters upward of 31 minutes before giving them the next night off in New Orleans.
Kerr almost surely will do the same with Klay Thompson in the rematch, as the veteran has not played in any back-to-backs this season, sitting out the team's previous four.
Another Warrior who has been given veterans' treatment at times on back-to-backs has been Draymond Green, whose late 3-pointer stalled a Bulls rally on Friday to cap a near-triple-double performance (13 points, 10 assists and nine rebounds).
"That was the shot of the game," Kerr said of Green's 26-footer with 2:01 remaining after the Bulls had rallied within 110-109. "It's great to see Draymond making threes, but I just like the way he's playing in general. He's having an All-Star season."
One of the youngest teams in the league, the Rockets have not adopted a rest plan on back-to-backs In fact, they put up quite a fight in a 95-93 loss to the Los Angeles Clippers in October in a similar road back-to-back following a game at Phoenix.
The Warriors used 24 3-pointers as the backbone of their 127-120 win at Houston last month. They have hit at least 18 in each of their last five home games, a stretch in which they've averaged 123 points.
The Rockets countered with a 27-15 advantage in free-throw attempts in the earlier meeting. They outscored the Warriors 23-11 at the line.
Houston gained an even greater advantage at the line over the Suns on Friday, going 34-for-43 as opposed to Phoenix's 14-for-19. Jalen Green got to the line 16 times himself and made 12.
--Field Level Media