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Warriors begin defending title against rebuilt Rockets

OAKLAND, Calif. -- The Golden State Warriors begin their NBA title defense Tuesday night against one of the teams expected to provide the biggest roadblocks in their path, the Houston Rockets, in a nationally televised season opener.

Led by the same core that dominated both the regular season and the playoffs last year, the Warriors will seek to become the first champ to repeat since the Miami Heat won back-to-back titles in 2012-13.

"Coach (Steve Kerr) has challenged us to focus on the details in how we can get better from last year," Warriors star Stephen Curry noted on the eve of the season. "He joked around: 'What do you tell a team that's won 67 games, or 65-plus the last three years, two championships? How do you tell a team like that to get better? Or what do you tell a team like that to get better?'

"It's basically about the details and the fine points of our offense ... cutting hard, setting screens for each other, the counters that we're going to add to our offensive sets. All those little things are built on the foundation that we set last year, and obviously Kevin (Durant) is a part of that. We all are. So it's kind of good to put that in the right perspective."

The Rockets got the better of the Warriors in their first regular-season meeting in Oakland last season, riding 14 3-pointers to a 132-127 double-overtime win.

The Warriors won the next three head-to-heads, and Houston failed to advance out of the Western Conference semifinals, prompting the Rockets to reload in an effort to dethrone Golden State this time around.

The Rockets went all-in (seven players and a first-round pick) in acquiring nine-time All-Star Chris Paul from the Los Angeles Clippers to team with Most Valuable Player runner-up James Harden and form a rare backcourt capable of matching the firepower of the Warriors' Curry and Klay Thompson.

Paul has enjoyed success against the Warriors. His 22.8 scoring average in 38 meetings with Golden State is the veteran's highest against any opponent.

With six other holes to fill in the roster, the Rockets also imported defensive-minded forwards P.J. Tucker from the Toronto Raptors and Luc Richard Mbah a Moute from the Clippers with an eye toward matching up better with Durant.

The NBA Finals MVP played just two games against the Rockets last season, torching them for 71 points on 24-of-47 shooting (51.1 percent).

"Golden State set the bar really high," Rockets coach Mike D'Antoni said of his team responding to a 55-win season, third best in the NBA, with significant changes. "It's been great for basketball. It is good for basketball. And now, you just gotta catch them somehow. It's not easy."

The Rockets are hoping the addition of Paul will help take some of the offensive burden off Harden, who has struggled against Golden State.

Matched up almost exclusively with Thompson, Harden compiled a pair of triple-doubles in the four matchups last season, but he was harassed into 23-for-73 shooting (31.5 percent), including 5-for-34 (14.7 percent) on 3-pointer, while totaling more turnovers (26) than shots made (23).

Harden's plus-minus was negative in all four games, totaling minus-49.

The Warriors responded to the December loss to the Rockets with three wins by a total of 33 points.

Golden State wasn't as busy as Houston in the offseason, but it did make three key additions to its bench, signing offensive-minded forwards Nick Young and Omri Casspi as free agents and drafting Oregon standout Jordan Bell in the second round.

Casspi (mild right ankle sprain) is probable for the Tuesday opener, while Golden State forward Andre Iguodala (back strain) is questionable.

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