It may just be the preseason, but the Houston Rockets have a pair of milestones in their Monday game against the Dallas Mavericks. Not only is this the first game against a division rival, but the first opportunity to see Dwight Howard and Ömer Aşık attempt to co-exist. Both players will start the game for Houston, and we may just get one step closer to answering Houston’s most pressing question. Can Ömer Aşık and Dwight Howard share the court?
The Rockets also want to know what happens when both players stagger minutes to protect the rim at all times. As the game settles into the second half, a move to the bench seems likely once some questions have been addressed, but the first half in particular should be intriguing to watch. The Rockets will also likely continue to play with the minutes at the point guard and power forward positions, two positions with multiple likely candidates to start.
The Mavericks, on the other hand, are bringing something else to the table. In something of a holding pattern year once again, the Mavs have yet another new look, this time helmed by Monta Ellis. Dirk Nowitzki continues to headline the show, and between him, Ellis and new point guard Jose Calderon, the Mavs should be an avid three point shooting team. Nowitzki and Calderon are deadly accurate, while Ellis is known for his shooting volume more than shooting accuracy.
The Mavericks won’t get much shooting from the rest of their frontcourt, though, with Brandan Wright, DeJuan Blair, and starting center Samuel Dalembert providing little spacing or range. Dalembert is a mere season removed from his year with the 2011-2012 Rockets, though no faces except Chandler Parsons remain on this current team.
Shawn Marion and Vince Carter remain in Dallas. Both play the wing and both should log few minutes in a preseason game. The two wily vets have burned Houston in games past, but with their role and abilities long since known to Dallas, their compatibility is one of the few issues that might lead to minutes for the veterans. Marion in particular is a key element of their defense, which has been excellent in years past but seems increasingly questionable.
Houston may have some unknowns on defense, but the Mavs now feature Ellis, Calderon and Nowitzki in the same lineup. Finding and exploiting their defensive weaknesses on the perimeter should be high priority for a team looking to take four wins from a division rival this season. Dalembert is known for his defense, but his blocks and rim protection have begun to decline. Even in his prime, serving as the last line of defense behind a porous backline would have been a tough demand.
A couple years previous, this matchup would have been a cakewalk for a powerful Dallas team over a foundering Houston. In a mere two seasons, the Rockets have become contenders in the west, while the Mavs limp out of the gate after missing the playoffs for the first time in over a decade. Instead of a chance to prove their mettle against an elite team, the Mavs come to Houston with as many questions as answers themselves, while the Rockets seek to trot out Ömer Aşık to answer a few questions of their own.