Gameday: Warriors won't have key defender against Rockets

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USATSI

Gameday: Warriors won't have key defender against Rockets

The Warriors will be chasing franchise history at Toyota Center in Houston on Saturday, when they face the Rockets in a battle of the NBA’s highest-scoring teams.

Pregame coverage on NBC Sports Bay Area begins at 4:30, with postgame coverage immediately following the conclusion of the national telecast.

The defending champions have won their last 14 road games, tying the franchise record set in 73-win season of 2015-16. The Warriors (37-9) are two wins away from tying the NBA record of 16 consecutive road wins set by the Lakers in 1971-72.

A victory also would give the Warriors a perfect record (5-0) in their most difficult road trip of the season.

The Rockets (31-12) spent the first two months of the season atop the Western Conference and are expected to provide the greatest threat to the Warriors making a fourth consecutive appearance in the NBA Finals.

BETTING LINE:
Warriors by 3.5

MATCHUP TO WATCH:
Klay Thompson vs. James Harden: One week after Thompson faced one foe from his childhood foes in Southern California, Toronto’s DeMar DeRozan, here comes another in Harden. That Harden is playing on a recovering hamstring and will be on a minutes restriction could work in favor of Thompson and the Warriors. Thompson has been playing well; he’s having his best season. He’ll be a load for Harden or any defender, especially with starting wing Trevor Ariza out serving a suspension.

INJURY REPORT:
Warriors: F Andre Iguodala (L calf contusion) was ruled out after shootaround. F Jordan Bell (L ankle inflammation) is listed as out. C Damian Jones is on assignment with the G-League Santa Cruz Warriors.

Rockets: F Trevor Ariza (suspension), F/G Gerald Green (suspension), F/C Chinanu Onuaku (sinus surgery) and PF Zhou Qi (R elbow suergery) are listed as out.

LAST 10:
Warriors: 9-1. Rockets: 6-4.

GAME OFFICIALS:
Derrick Stafford (crew chief), Derrick Collins, Kevin Scott

SERIES HISTORY:
The teams split the first two of three games scheduled this season, each winning on the other’s court. The Rockets came back for a 122-121 victory on Oct. 17 at Oracle Arena and the Warriors taking a 124-114 decision on Jan. 4 at Toyota Center. The Warriors won three of four meetings last season and 12 of the last 14 overall in the regular season. They have won eight of the last nine in Houston.

THREE THINGS TO WATCH:
EYES ON THE ARC: Whereas the Warriors routinely deploy the 3-point shot, the Rockets live by it, firing league-leading 43.5 triples per game. The Warriors are better at it, though, shooting a league-leading 38.9 percent to Houston’s 36.3. The teams have combined to shoot 151 3-pointers in their two meetings this season. The Warriors are 10th in the league at defending the 3, while the Rockets at 22nd.

THE BENCHES: The Rockets have the No. 2 (by net rating) bench in the league, behind reigning Sixth Man of the Year Eric Gordon, who leads the league in 3-point attempts (9.7 per game), and rugged forward PJ Tucker, a defensive specialist. The Warriors counter with the No. 1 bench, anchored by Andre Iguodala and David West. The benches rank 1-2 in effective field-goal percentage, with the Warriors on top.

THE LOONEY FACTOR: The absence of exciting rookie power forward Jordan Bell means possible minutes for JaVale McGee and certainly an additional load for Kevon Looney. He has played well enough that even if he doesn’t start, he’s likely to play more minutes than usual starter Zaza Pachulia -- as was the case when the teams met on Jan. 4.

Steve Kerr details what Jordan Bell's injury means for Kevon Looney

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AP

Steve Kerr details what Jordan Bell's injury means for Kevon Looney

For the first three months of this season, the Warriors carried six players capable of playing at center or, as they refer to it, “big.” It seemed excessive for a team that likes to use small lineups.

But with one of the six, Jordan Bell, spraining his left ankle Wednesday night in Chicago, that depth is now an asset.

Bell will be reevaluated in two weeks. But with the sprain severe enough to cause inflammation, it’s realistic to consider he may be out until after the Feb. 15-21 All-Star break.

“There’s no structural damage is the main thing,” Warriors coach Steve Kerr told reporters Friday after practice in Chicago. “He’s young guy who heals quickly so, hopefully, this is best-case scenario.”

[WARRIORS OUTSIDERS PODCAST: Assistant GM Kirk Lacob says the Warriors are 'Kevon believers']

What does this mean for the Warriors?

It means, first and foremost, more floor time for Kevon Looney.

The Warriors are down to Looney and four other “bigs”: Draymond Green, Zaza Pachulia, David West and JaVale McGee. With McGee still likely trade bait -- the deadline is Feb. 8 -- it’s possible Damian Jones may return from G-League Santa Cruz.

With Pachulia the usual starter and West generally slotted to open the second and fourth quarters, Looney, Green and McGee, in that order, will be most impacted by Bell’s absence.

“It thrusts Kevon into that role full-time until JB gets back,” Kerr said. “They’ve sort of gone back and forth all year. I’m really happy with both of them. But they’ve been in and out of the lineup.

“This will mean that Kevon will see consistent minutes over the next couple weeks.”

Looney, who entered the game Wednesday when Bell was hurt 24 seconds after tipoff, played a career-high 30 minute. Though his individual numbers didn’t sparkle -- 2 points, four rebounds, one assist -- he was, as usual, subtly effective. He finished plus-33.

Because he’s fundamentally sound and rarely makes mistakes, Looney’s playing time has increased of late. Averaging less than 10 minutes a game for most of the season, he has averaged 21.5 over the last four games. His minutes, still based largely on matchups, should fall somewhere between 10 and 20 per game.

Looney has been particularly adept at executing the defensive switches that is the basis of the Warriors defense. Though not a superior athlete, certainly not at the level of Bell, Looney is smart and clever, with a knack for anticipation.

“We believe in him,” Kerr said. “He’s a really good fit for what we try to do defensively. He’s a good passer. He keeps things simple. He’s just got to keep playing.”

Green’s minutes at the 5 have been curtailed due to such factors as him missing seven games, Bell’s arrival and West’s effectiveness. Of the top eight lineups used by the Warriors, Green is the big in only one of them, the so-called Death Lineup: Stephen Curry, Kevin Durant, Andre Iguodala, Klay Thompson and Green.

That unit has, according to NBA.com stats, played a total of 61 minutes and is the team’s third-most effective. Though the coaching staff is mindful of the physical demands placed on Green at the 5, his minutes there could temporarily rise.

McGee’s situation is less certain. Though he filled an important role last season as a “vertical spacer,” he was essentially replaced this season by Bell. On 13 occasions, McGee has either been a DNP-CD or inactive. He played fewer minutes over the past month than Looney has in the past week.

Bell’s injury increases McGee’s value to the Warriors, but only slightly. He’s the only legitimate 7-foot “big” on the roster and can be useful against some of the more traditional centers.

When the Warriors internally ask themselves what can McGee do that Jones can’t, there isn’t much there.

Bell will be missed because he’s the most athletic “big” on the roster and the best option against athletic or non-traditional centers. He might have been in the starting lineup Saturday in Houston to counter frisky Rockets center Clint Capela.

Bell, however, played a total of six minutes against the Rockets on Jan. 4. Pachulia played 14. West played 12. Looney played 15 and his plus-13 was tops among the team’s primary big men.

It’s no lock Looney will start Saturday, but expect to see plenty of him then and beyond.

Two Warriors named All-Star Game starters

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USATSI

Two Warriors named All-Star Game starters

After sending four players to the NBA All-Star Game last season in New Orleans, the Warriors are halfway to repeating the feat this season.

Point guard Stephen Curry and small forward Kevin Durant were voted in as Western Conference starters for the game scheduled for Feb. 18 at Staples Center in Los Angeles, the NBA announced on Thursday.

Though Curry has missed 15 games -- nearly one-third of the season -- it has not hurt his popularity; His No. 30 is the NBA’s best-selling jersey for the third straight season. He is averaging team-leading 27.7 points, 6.5 assists and 5.3 rebounds, and 1.65 steals per game.

Curry is the first member of the Warriors to be named a starter for five consecutive All-Star games. As the player with the most fan votes, Curry becomes a captain and is in position to select the members of his team.

Durant, who has missed eight games this season, was named as a starter for the sixth time, the first four coming when he was a member of the Thunder.

Durant is averaging 26.2 points (fifth in the league) 6.9 rebounds, 5.4 assists and 2.05 blocks (fourth in the league) per game.