Playing against Dallas is always a challenge. It often feels like a game the Rockets should be able to win, but season after season the Mavericks seem to get the better of the matchup (over the past five seasons the scoreline is 13-3 in favour of the Mavs). The vagaries of the scheduling gods mean that this could easily be chalked up as a schedule loss. But given that divisional record may end up proving important for playoff seeding purposes and the Rockets have recently dropped two games to Memphis, there still needs to be some urgency this evening.
The two losses against Memphis illustrated Houston’s fundamental weakness against teams that can shut off the paint against the drive. They are left to the vagaries of their three point shooting, which isn’t going to reliably get them wins. On the flip side, they seem to have the Spurs’ number this year, so that’s something! Coming off a back-to-back playing an 8 man rotation means there will be some tired legs tonight. Especially since bad weather conditions have meant they didn’t arrive in Dallas until this morning.
The Mavs caught the worst of the Trailblazers’ wrath and ran into the hottest two teams in the Atlantic Division (!) in losses to Toronto and Brooklyn. But they still know how to put away bottom feeders with wins against Cleveland and Detroit. They haven’t played since Sunday, so there’s quite a big rest differential here.
Rockets: Harden (thumb), Garcia (knee), Smith (knee), Asik (knee), Brewer (calf)
Harden missed the Spurs game, but might be back tonight. If he doesn’t play, McHale may need to expand the 8-man rotation he used against San Antonio to counteract fatigue.
Mavericks: Mekel (knee)
With the return of Devin Harris, the Mavs don’t really lose much with Mekel out. Dalembert and Nowitzki are a bit banged up, but otherwise they’re basically at full strength.
- If Harden’s out, feed Howard. Howard will play more minutes than Dalembert so he should have some time matched up against Dejuan Blair or Brendan Wright. In that time he must feast!
- It’s inevitable that the Mavericks will go to a zone at some point tonight. To beat it, the Rockets need to amp up their ball movement. This is generally something that improves slightly when Harden isn’t playing – so it might work out OK.
- Playing short handed makes getting points out of the bench even more difficult. Last night the second unit got great production out of Jones when he was playing with the bench unit in the second quarter. The team either needs the same again from him, or some hot shooting from Casspi and Brooks in order to remain afloat against the Dallas bench mob.
- Dirk Nowitzki makes defending the pick-and-roll nigh-on impossible, as Zach Lowe expertly explains. It’ll be interesting to see if, as Lowe suggests, teams bring out a different defence against Dirk than they do against all the other teams in the league.
- Monta Ellis especially benefits from the extra attention defences give to Dirk and gets to the rim a lot – help defence is going to be critical to keep him out of the paint.
- If it comes down to crunch time and it’s close, the Mavericks are the most comfortable team in the league at sticking with what works. If they’ve found a reliable scoring option they’ll go to it over and over again and grind their opponent into submission. Last time around they figured out how to get Lin switched out onto Nowitzki, and carnage ensued.
It’s hard to believe this is Brandan Wright’s 7th NBA campaign (he was drafted 8th overall by the Bobcats in 2007) because it still feels like he has a lot of breakout potential. With his long arms and great athleticism, he is an excellent shot-blocker and his per-36 numbers always look good. Unfortunately, his lack of body mass makes it difficult for him to defend traditional fours and his lack of range means he doesn’t provide the benefits that a stretch four would, so he doesn’t quite fit in today’s NBA. Nevertheless, Carlisle has found a use for him in the rotation and plays him in the region of 10-20 minutes per night. Watch out for his weakside shot-blocking – it has caused problems for the Rockets in the past. Matching him up with Casspi should go some way to neutralising that effect as he is dragged out towards the three point line.