The 2013-14 season will be 13 games old after tonight, but the Houston Rockets will finish off already their fourth back-to-back game of the season in Dallas. Fortunately, yesterday’s utter evisceration of the Boston Celtics ensured that the Rockets starters will be ready for tonight’s game. The Mavericks last played on Monday night, eking out a tough 97-94 win against the Philadelphia 76ers.
Tonight’s contest will be the second game against the Mavericks. In that game, Houston raced out to a 38-22 first quarter lead. While the Rockets would hang on to win, the rest of the game dissolved into one of the ugliest displays of basketball I have ever seen, with incessant fouls on both ends, zone defense, Hack-a-Howard, turnovers galore, and even a last-ditch effort from Mavericks forward Jae Crowder to replicate Tracy McGrady’s “13 in 33.” What is important to note is that this was the one game early in the season where the Howard-Asik combination was not used at the beginning, as Omer Asik picked up two fouls in the first minute of play and Omri Casspi took his place. The result was that highly successful first quarter, something which Kevin McHale should take note of for tonight.
Despite that loss, Dallas currently sits at a 7-4 record, only a half-game behind the Rockets. Monta Ellis is having a career year efficiency-wise (see below), Dirk Nowitzki is plugging along at only a slightly reduced level, and the Mavericks are shooting 39% from long range this season (side note: there are five teams – Golden State, Miami, Milwaukee, Portland, and the Lakers – which attempt over 15 3-pointers per game and make over 40% of them. If you adjust this to over 20 3-pointers per game, only Milwaukee is removed. Golden State is currently at 46%. I know small sample size and all, but it still is utterly ridiculous.) Dallas runs a lot of pick and rolls – according to Synergy Sports, Monta Ellis and Jose Calderon have ran 159 plays this season involving the pick and roll, while the Rockets as a team have ran 160. This is a dangerous team offensively, with a lot of shooters, ball handlers, and still one of the best big man today in Nowitzki.
In addition, the Mavericks are nowhere as bad on defense as everyone predicted during the preseason – Dallas ranks 14th in defensive rating. Samuel Dalembert may only play 23 minutes per game, but Dejuan Blair has done an excellent job backing it up. Defense, more often than not, is just about effort, a willingness to execute, and a sound coaching scheme. With one of the best coaches in Rick Carlisle and veterans aplenty, Dallas has definitely been able to play up to their potential.
Yet where Dallas is at right now, at a 7-4 record and the 7th seed in the always tumultuous Western Conference, is their potential. And Houston has yet to reach theirs. Tonight’s game will be an important test given that these teams could very well end up facing off in the first round.
Ellis over the years has been viewed as one of the weaknesses of traditional boxscore numbers against the newer, more efficiency-focused statistics. Sure, as the lead player for the Golden State Warriors, he put up high volume numbers and averaged over 25 points in one season. But given how many field goals Ellis was using and how bad the Warriors were at the time, how good was he really?
So far behind Dirk Nowitzki, the answer seem to be “a good second option.” Ellis is putting up a career high field goal percentage, is getting to the line more than ever before, and even his much-maligned three point shooting has gone from “should be fined for ever attempting one” to just bad at 32%. As mentioned above, Ellis runs a ridiculous amount of pick and rolls with Dirk and Shawn Marion, which are both incredibly difficult to guard especially with the numerous shooters that the Mavericks possess. He is also quite capable of just going off, as he recently demonstrated in the last game against Philadelphia when he scored 13 in the 3rd quarter. Harden’s defense has improved since that disastrous performance against the Lakers, but Ellis will be the best shooting guard he has faced since then.
Game tips off on ESPN at 8:30pm CST.