SHOWDOWN WITH THE CHAMPS

Even though it is early, tonight's Warriors matchup has greater meaning for Rockets

No Steph Curry tonight for the Warriors makes this a big chance at a win for the Rockets. Patrick Smith/Getty Images

It's best not to operate in hyperbole when discussing a single game of any sport that isn't football. In football, the season is so condensed that any one loss could very well spell disaster for a team.  In baseball, or in this case basketball, teams have scores of contests so the impact of one game usually goes unnoticed.

The problem is when one bad game becomes two, and two becomes five, and five becomes seven. The problem is when chemistry development is hamstrung at the hands of injuries and suspensions. And the problem could quite possibly be distractions.

It is through this unique set of coinciding circumstances that the Rockets find themselves in a seemingly hyperbolic situation halfway through November. Tonight is Houston's first must-win game.

Houston hosts the 12-3 Golden State Warriors tonight, a super team of super teams and clear favorite to run away with yet another NBA championship. The Rockets, conversely, are 6-7 at the moment as they drag themselves out of a the 1-5 hole they face planted into to start the season.

Houston has since recomposed and put together a 5-2 run. Their defensive rating has flipped from 26th (115.6)  in their first six games to 10th (106.6) in their last seve, and in those same spans their offensive rating has swung from 24th (105.1) to 14th (109.3). All of that is to say that Houston isn't quite the dog that their record would necessarily suggest.

That swing, though, is exactly what makes tonight's matchup so pivotal. Critics will point to two of Houston's wins being against bottom feeder opponents, but supporters could counter with Houston's wins over playoff contenders in the Pacers and Nuggets. Beating the Warriors would end that argument for the moment.

Make no mistake, this isn't some pipe dream either. Houston is perfectly capable of winning this game. In fact, as of this writing, they're currently 1.5 point favorites to win. I wouldn't exactly bet the farm with those odds, but with Stephen Curry out and the Rockets as healthy as they've been all season, it's entirely possible that Houston could win tonight.

So there is is. Houston is in about as much of a must-win game as an NBA team with championship aspirations can be in November. Would a loss derail the season? No. A win, however, could all but erase their awful start. Wins against Golden State are the only metric by which the Rockets have measured their success for the past few seasons, and tonight we'll get our first opportunity to see just how they stack up this year.

 

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