By: Rob Dover
The Rockets are about to begin one of the more difficult sections of this year's schedule. Over the next week they will play 5 games, including match-ups against every opponent in the Southwest Division. With injuries piling up, this gruelling stretch could not have come at a more inconvenient time. Not only is the scheduling brutal, but the games are slightly more important too since divisional record may end up breaking some ties at the top of the West when all is said and done.
The loss against Indiana was a disheartening reminder that the team has a long way to go. But the team should take heart from how well they played against Detroit despite their depleted numbers - the strength in depth that Morey has carefully cultivated over the past few seasons is now on full display. There were a lot of tired-looking faces at the end of the Detroit game though, and it may be difficult to keep that level of intensity going for the full 48 minutes tonight.
Like the Rockets, the Mavs came away from Phoenix empty-handed, and like the Rockets they were taken to overtime by Toronto. Wins against Milwaukee and Memphis are nice but nothing to write home about.
The collective weight of injuries is starting to pile up. No Harden, no Beverley, no Asik, no Smith tonight. Fortunately Lin will make his return, but don't expect big things - Jeremy always seems to take a couple of games to get back into the groove after missing time due to injuries. If he isn't able to play big minutes, we may get our first glimpse of Isaiah Canaan in regular season play. Time to see what the rookie can do!
Surprisingly for their age, the Mavericks have an almost clean bill of health going into tonight's game. The only player they're missing is Devin Harris, who is still recovering from a toe injury. Since the last time we saw them, Brandan Wright has recovered from injury and seems to be stealing minutes from old friend Samuel Dalembert.
- After marmalising Andre Drummond and friends on Saturday, Dwight Howard will once again be the focus of the Rockets' offence tonight in the absence of Harden. We may see more of the same initially - in previous meetings Samuel Dalembert has done a decent job of defending Howard's post threat so Carlisle might be tempted to try single coverage initially. But given the marked improvement we've seen from Howard over the last few games, I suspect that the double teams will start coming sooner rather than later. One of the main things that has led to Howard's resurgence in the post is that he seems to have figured out how to time his spins to avoid the wandering hands of wing defenders digging down on him as he makes his move to the middle. This is something the Mavs are pretty good at doing, so he's going to have to keep that up tonight.
- There's a really interesting breakdown of the Maverick's pick-and-roll defence here. In it, Hal Brown illustrates how Carlisle has his players trapping on pick-and-rolls, and how the defensive scheme leads to a lot of open shots when the screener pops out for a three or long two. When Omri Casspi is in the game, some 1-4 pick-and-roll action might be worth a shot.
- The Rockets were beaten badly by the Pacers because they couldn't manufacture any penetration off the dribble. Fortunately the Mavericks are nowhere near the Pacers' class in defending the point of attack and driver extraordinare Jeremy Lin is back in the line-up to help get into the paint. It remains to be seen whether he'll have much explosion in his first game back, but anything he can provide will be welcome.
- This is Dirk Nowitzki's team, but the player the Rockets really need to worry about is Monta Ellis. He seems to have matured remarkably since arriving in Dallas (being in a veteran locker room will do that to you) and his ability to jet off picks and get into the lane has caused Houston no end of trouble in the first two meetings. Finding a way to contain him is critical if the Rockets are to come away with a win.
- Can Jones defend his position? This could well be one of the defining questions of the Rockets' season. There are so many great PFs in the West that he reckons to be in a critical match-up almost every night. And in Dirk he's facing one of the cream of the crop - whether he can maintain is defensive discipline and keep Nowitzki away from his favoured elbow spot will go a long way to deciding the result of the game.
Jae Crowder (6'6" SF, Marquette)
Easily recognisable thanks to his awesome dreadlocks, Crowder is a second year player who tends to see about 15-20 minutes per night of playing time. Pretty much a prototypical 3-and-D wing at this point, he is capable of heating up on occasion (rewatch the fourth quarter of these teams' first meeting if you don't believe me). He'll give you high effort every night and is a pretty decent rebounder.