When one looks back at Houston’s long chase for a superstar, from Bosh to Melo to the Pau/Nene “basketball reasons” trade, one should also note that Dallas has been undergoing the same chase to put a superstar next to Dirk for nearly as long. It pursued Lebron James back during the infamous 2010 free agency by using Erick Dampier’s unguaranteed contract as a potential sign and trade piece and the at the time intriguing prospect Rodrigue Beaubois ( who today is out of the league), and then split apart a championship team to get either Deron Wiliams, Chris Paul, or Dwight Howard, only to be turned down by all three. As John Eby noted in today’s Rockets Daily, Mark Cuban has not exactly been a happy camper over these failures, as he declared that the past successes of the Mavericks should trump minor things like actually having good players that fit with Howard.
So, here they are. And yet despite all these failures, this Dallas team is still predicted by many to make the playoffs. Dirk is still Dirk, as he finished last season extremely well despite struggling through the first half with injuries. Jose Calderon is an excellent passing point guard. Monta Ellis may not have it all, but he can get hot (not to mention that he is fully capable of succeeding Jason Terry’s legacy of being better than Jordan whenever he plays Houston, if this ridiculous buzzer last year is any indication.) Rick Carlise is one of the best coaches in the league. Vince Carter has refashioned himself into an excellent role player after poor stints with the Magic and the Suns. Their defense may indeed be utterly terrible, especially since Samuel Dalembert is no defensive anchor as his stint with the Rockets in 2011-12 demonstrated, but it’s still a veteran, tough team.
As for the Rockets? There frankly is plenty to worry about for tonight’s game, even though only one team will enter the court with championship aspirations. Houston looked very stiff offensively using the Howard-Asik combo against the Bobcats, and Dirk can certainly do a much better job hurting the Twin Towers’s defense from range than Josh McRoberts. He also possesses the post play to keep Omri Casspi and Chandler Parsons from easily guarding him. Even if Howard-Asik can shut down the paint, Dallas is good enough of a jump shooting team that they very well could win the game without needing to score huge amounts of points in the paint.
Furthermore, Houston is already trying to handle the injury situation. Patrick Beverley and James Harden did not take part in yesterday’s practice, and both are expected to be game time decisions. While I would expect both of them to play, whether they will be able to go at full steam is another matter, especially since Harden was clearly not himself for large stretches of the game against Charlotte.
Yet despite these problems, whether it is that Dallas has assembled a good veteran team, the injury concerns, or how Houston will guard Dirk, the Rockets have accumulated two superstars, while the Mavericks still only have one aging star who was drafted back in 1998. Houston should be expected to win what will be a hard-fought, tough battle as old clashes with the new.
Dejuan Blair, (6’7’’ PF/C, Pittsburgh)
I’ll openly confess that San Antonio is by far my second-favorite team in the league, which means that I’ve seen quite a bit of Dejuan Blair. One thing to note is that Blair is one of those rare players where opposing fans have a higher opinion of a player than the team’s own fans do. Homerism means that it’s almost always the opposite. Blair is always praised for his toughness (which comes back to the fact that he has no ACLs), his rebounding, and such, but those who don’t watch the Spurs miss that he has terrible defensive awareness, showed utterly no progression in 4 years under Gregg Popovich, does not have any semblance of a jumper or post game, and has not been reliable at simply keeping himself in fit condition.
Still, he has a chance to restart with the Mavericks, and had a good game against the Hawks in Dallas’s opener, scoring 9 points on 5 shots and picking up 5 rebounds in 21 minutes. Dallas’s weaknesses in their big man rotation means that they can use a tough rebounder, and that is what Blair will provide. How he will do against Howard and Asik, and how Dallas will prevent Houston from literally grabbing all the rebounds, will be an important storyline for tonight.