Every team in the NBA has schedule gripes. It sucks and absolutely makes a difference in games. On the one hand, it allows the "any given game" scenario to play out. But on the other, it can hurt teams when they are trying to make headway in playoff races. Yes, every team gets the same number of days off, but there's a difference between playing, say, the Bucks on a back-to-back versus playing the Thunder.
That makes these opportunities against the Dallas Mavericks so important. By a weird scheduling quirk, the Rockets get the Mavericks all four times this year on a back-to-back. Tonight is game two of the series, with game three right after the All-Star Break and game four in April. The Mavs being on a back-to-back makes every game winnable, whereas in the past it seemed that Houston was getting ambushed when these teams met.
What's more, the Mavericks are actually on their fourth game in five nights. And they are in the midst of a three-game losing streak.
The Mavericks played last night in Dallas, losing 109-90 against the Memphis Grizzlies. The Grizz built a 10-point lead in the second quarter and never looked back. Dallas sat their starters for much of the fourth quarter, with Ellis playing the most minutes with 33.
So Dallas is going to come in gunning for this one. No one wants to go 0-2 against division rivals.
Tip off is at 7 p.m. CST.
Point Guard: Patrick Beverley vs. Rajon Rondo
Rondo is averaging 11/7/5 since joining the Mavs and is shooting a better percentage than when he was in Boston earlier this year. By now you may have heard that Dallas' offensive efficiency has dropped since they traded for Rondo, but their defensive efficiency has gone up. That's a huge plus for them since their biggest issue moving forward and in the playoffs will be their defense. They can score on anyone, and Rondo's abilities are tailor-made for the playoffs when the game slows down.
Shooting Guard: James Harden vs. Monta Ellis
Two gunners going at it. Tyson Chandler may be the Mavs' most important player, but Ellis has become their best. He carries them through large stretches of games and has the ability to push the Mavs across the finish line close games. I can't find his fourth-quarter scoring, but every time I watch the Mavs play the announcers make sure to let everyone know that he's a stone cold killer.
Remind you of anyone?
Small Forward: Trevor Ariza vs. Chandler Parsons
I'd much rather not talk about this matchup. Whatever I say will be thrown back in my face.
If I bring up the stats and say that they show that Parsons is better, someone will say that defense isn't measured accurately by stats and that Ariza is a much better defender than Parsons.
If I say that Ariza is a better defender than Parsons, someone will say that Ariza's shooting has been so terrible lately that his defense doesn't make up the difference.
If I bring up the salaries, someone will say that salary doesn't matter on a game-to-game basis and that what you have on the court is what you have.
But then someone will say that salary matters to winning championships and that Parsons taking a crazy amount of dough will hurt the Mavs for the next couple of years.
All good points, so I'm staying away.
Power Forward: Donatas Motiejunas vs. Dirk Nowitzki
I'm not going to talk about Dirk's ability to shoot over anyone that guards him because that's been beaten to death. Houston still hasn't solved its stretch-4 defensive issues and it's unlikely to get solved tonight.
If Howard doesn't play, I expect Dirk to hide on Dorsey as much as possible on the other side of the ball. The Rockets will counter by trying to guard Dirk with Josh Smith and having D-Mo patrol with Chandler.
Also, we might get a few minutes from Terrence Jones, who participated in a full practice yesterday. Houston has really missed him and these are the games where T-Jones really excelled. There's an entire corollary named after his ability to play well against power forwards that are less athletic than he is.
I'm interested to see how Jones looks, but in no way will be expecting much. He's been sidelined since early November with his nerve inflammation so there's no way he's in game shape. I would expect him to take two-three weeks to really get his legs under him and return to full-on Terrence Jones. I realize that throws a wrench in everyone's plan to trade him for Dragic or LeBron, but it is what it is. This team is better with a healthy Jones than it is without one. It also gives McHale a lot of versatility with his big-man rotation. If Jones gets back to full strength, the Rockets can do a lot of things, like:
1. Start Jones with Howard again and bring Josh Smith and D-Mo off the bench.
2. Play small-ball with Jones and Josh Smith together. It's not a good long-term idea but can be used for short bursts if it works.
3. Unleash the Left-Handed Squad of Destruction. Harden, Papa, Smith, Jones, and D-Mo would be a horrible lineup, but it would be like a mirror out there.
4. Never play Joey Dorsey ever again.
I like #4 the best.
Center: Dwight Howard vs. Tyson Chandler
Howard is questionable tonight since he tweaked his ankle in practice yesterday, but he wasn't available the last time these teams met. Remember that game, where Joey Dorsey and Tarik Black took on the Mavs' centers (and failed)? Chandler and Brandan Wright combined for 73 alley-oop finishes (all stats approximate) that Houston could do absolutely nothing about. Wright is gone, so maybe there will be fewer dunks even if Howard doesn't play.
The advantage here goes to Dallas since there's no way Dwight is 100 percent. Chandler has been awesome for them and you can book him for at least three tap-out rebounds in the fourth quarter.
Rockets: Propeller Plane, Josh Smith, Corey Brewer, Joey Dorsey, Kostas Papanikolaou, TERRENCE JONES!
Mavericks: Dwight Powell, Al-Farouq Aminu, Richard Jefferson, J.J. Barea, Devin Harris
Prediction: Mavs get revenge, 110-105.
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