Tonight, the Rockets will look to get their first win in their “I-45 Rivalry” series with the Mavericks this season, as they take on Dallas at home. Even though the Mavericks made one of the bigger trades of the 2018-19 NBA season by recently acquiring star PF Kristaps Porzingas from the Knicks for DeAndre Jordan, Wesley Matthews, Dennis Smith Jr., the organization has already announced he will not be making an appearance this season in order to fully heal his ACL injury from last season. Moreover, a few weeks later on deadline day, the Mavericks completed a trade mid-game (which likely will go down infamously in NBA history) sending arguably their second best player, Harrison Barnes, to the Sacramento Kings for two far lesser players, Zach Randolph and Justin Jackson, with the former already being waived by the team in an effort to clear up salary space.Essentially, over the last few weeks, the Mavs have blown up this season’s roster in an attempt to build a future championship contender centered around their two burgeoning European stars. In the 5 games since they made the Porzingas trade the Mavs are 3-2, with two of the wins coming from games against sub-500 Eastern Conference teams and the other coming at the expense of Trail Blazers last night. While the Mavericks do not look like an objectively lesser team over the last few games, as they now have enhanced bench scoring with the addition of Trey Burke, improved 3 PT shooting recently (35.4% over the last 3 games), and Doncic is seemingly gonna be Doncic more often than not as he continues to have a an amazing rookie season, they are still not a competitive playoff team in Western Conference.
The previous two times this season these two teams played, the Rockets lost largely in part to injuries, the disparity in rebounding, and because of the play of Luca Donicic looking to take Jason Terry’s previously retired role on the Mavericks of the “Rocket Killer”. On the bright side for the Rockets, the Mavericks rebounding capabilities have been largely reduced with the departure of Deandre Jordan, and the Rockets are now close to fully healthy with Capela being the sole rotation piece still sidelined with an injury. That being said, the Rockets must not let themselves continue to be beaten on the boards the way they have in most of their losses since Capela has gone down, which in particular provided OKC with a bunch of 2nd chance points in the 2nd half in their loss on Saturday night. Secondly, sure OKC had MVP hopeful Paul George play probably what was his best game of the season, and sure the Nuggets had one of the better offensive games in recent franchise history against the Rockets in their previous loss a few games back, but the lesson remains the same in both instances for the Rockets – they need to string together a full 48 minute stretch of concentrated, tough, defense, especially against the leagues’ top teams and on nights when James Harden looks a little less superhuman. The Rockets have had a slight improvement with their bench scoring as of late due to their previous roster additions, and James Harden will very likely continue to keep the Rockets afloat offensively with his historic tear, but for the Rockets to compete near the top of the Western Conference standings there must a continued focus on the defensive end and on the boards, especially against teams they should be beating. I would like to say that the Rockets use the lessons learned in the OKC loss to win this game tonight handily, but in the I-45 rivalry, anything is possible, so I think the Rockets narrowly take a close one against the Mavs at home.
Prediction: Rockets 110 – Mavericks 107