Jalen Green hopes a return to the region of his high school and G League success helps him end a shooting slump when the Houston Rockets visit the Golden State Warriors on Sunday night in San Francisco.
Green has spent the last three seasons playing for three different types of programs in Northern California — high school (San Joaquin Memorial in Fresno), an academy (Prolific Prep in Napa) and a professional start-up (the G-League Ignite, which was based in Walnut Creek).
The No. 2 pick of the 2021 draft returned to California as an NBA player for the first time last Sunday, but shot just 2-for-8 in a season-low, seven-point performance against the Los Angeles Lakers.
He rebounded with 24 points against the Lakers in a rematch, but has since gone 3-for-14 at Phoenix and 3-for-9 at Denver, the latter occurring in a 95-94, heartbreaking loss on Saturday afternoon.
The defeat was the Rockets’ second on their current five-game trip that went down to the final shot, with Houston a basket away from a shocking win. But the Rockets missed both shots — a Kevin Porter Jr. 3-pointer in Los Angeles and a Jae’Sean Tate layup Saturday that was blocked by Denver’s Nikola Jokic.
While the prospect of a back-to-back at the end of an eight-day trip probably doesn’t excite many Rockets, it’s one to which Green has looked forward. It’ll be his first head-to-head matchup with Stephen Curry, who was a bit of a mentor during Green’s high school days.
“Steph just tells me to keep working,” Green noted of the former two-time Most Valuable Player’s most recent message leading up to the draft. “He tries to give me information, as much as he can. He’s never stagnant, and that’s something in my game I didn’t really have.”
Saturday’s loss was Houston’s seventh straight and eighth in nine games overall this season. The Rockets have been held under 100 points four times during their losing streak.
Now they run into one of the NBA’s most impressive defenses, one that has led the Warriors to three straight wins and seven in eight games this season.
Golden State has limited its last three opponents — Oklahoma City, Charlotte and New Orleans — all to 92 points or fewer en route to home wins by an average of 28.0 points.
One of the leaders of the defensive charge has been Gary Payton II, who has five steals and a block during the winning streak.
He also found time for 17 points in 18 minutes against the Pelicans on a reserve unit that also featured Nemanja Bjelica (13 points) and Andre Iguodala (10 assists).
“He’s really a weapon,” Warriors coach Steve Kerr gushed of Payton. “He is really a dynamic player, and I think the fit with this year’s team is so good because he’s got shooting around him. We can almost invert the offense. Now Gary can become the drive man, and then we’ve got our big guys — Beli (Bjelica) and Otto (Porter Jr.) — out at the 3-point line. It’s an interesting, different kind of look.”
The Warriors swept the three-game series from the Rockets last season, getting an average of 28.7 points and a total of 17 3-pointers from Curry.
He enters Sunday’s game having scored 20 or fewer points in three straight games, which equals his longest such run since February of 2019.
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