I just want to start this preview off by thanking you guys. I literally a couple of incoherent thoughts about the Pelicans game after dropping 1,000 words on the Houston Baptist Huskies in a "game preview" that was anything but.
I expected to get comments along the lines of "Hey loser write about the game" or "Stop trying to Grantland me." What I got instead was a lot of encouragement and understanding for what I was going for. You guys are the best, the smartest, and definitely the best-looking readers on all of SB Nation. Those
fools actually nice people over at Mavs Moneyball can't hold a candle to you guys.
Anyway, it's time to start writing about the Rockets again because they actually, like, won a game they were supposed to. And after starting poorly once again, they actually played the rest of the game in a similar fashion to last season: be the better team, allow opponents to hang around, and then have Harden carry the team with one other player hitting a big shot.
It was a familiar script, except not for this season.
For the opponent, the Mavs were supposed to suck. Like, completely suck. They lost their best creator in Monta Ellis, they struck out on DeAndre Jordan and had to settle for Zaza Pachulia, and their two best wings were starting the year far from 100%. If I had told you that the Mavericks would be giving Raymond Felton 26 minutes per night, you would have thought the Mavs were tanking.
But there they are, at 11-8 and tied with the Thunder for the third spot in the West. The rest of the top 6 of the West has shaken out how everyone expected, but the Mavs are there instead of Houston. We'll see if the Rockets care tonight.
Point Guard: Patrick Beverley vs. Deron Williams
D-Will took the challenge of taking on Damian Lillard and dropped 30/8/6 in an overtime win against the Blazers on Tuesday.
As Rondo discovered last season, playing for Rick Carlisle is a fast way to lower your assist numbers. The offense doesn't run through one player and thus Williams is down on his assists in a trend that has continued since he went to Brooklyn. It's not likely that he'll need to get a bunch of assists if the Rockets play like they did when these teams first met last month.
On another note, Rocket killer J.J. Barea will not play tonight as he's nursing a sprained ankle. For years Barea has made highlight reels and gotten contracts seemingly based on his performances against the Rockets. I hope he comes back soon because injuries suck, but I'm not mad that he's out tonight.
I'm not going to mention the other Rockets point guard because I'm superstitious. I blame all of you.
Shooting Guard: James Harden vs. Wesley Matthews
Matthews' numbers are down across the board, which isn't a surprise given that he's coming off a torn Achilles. He played very well in Portland, which is a unusual in that players rarely have great games when they go back to play in the last city (see: Lawson, Ty). But Matthews lit up the Rose City with 18 points, 5 boards, and a couple of steals and went 3-6 from deep. That's the Wes that the Mavs want full-time and signs point to that happening relatively soon.
Matthews has given Harden trouble in the past, which is no secret. If James can get going early in this game it will do a lot to help him out, especially late. The Mavs will make runs because it's what they always do. Their crowd will be loud because it's what they do. Harden has to be the guy to shut them up at times. Another key will be driving to get Pachulia in foul trouble as Dallas' depth at center is weak like Houston's tonight.
Of course, the alternate side of that is that Dallas will be free to pack the lane and keep Harden out of the paint, daring the other Rockets to hit open 3s. If they do, then Houston has a real shot. If they refuse to even try (as they are apt to do), then Houston won't come close to sniffing a victory tonight.
Small Forward: Trevor Ariza vs. Chandler Parsons
Parsons missed the last game against Houston and also missed Tuesday's game against Portland. Still, you have to think that he's chomping at the bit to take on his former team.
In Houston's last five games, one stat has held true: if Trevor Ariza hits a three, the Rockets win. He's 6-12 in the 3 wins and 0-9 in the losses.
So, basically the Rockets need Ariza to make a deep shot and they automatically win, right? In all seriousness, Houston needs Ariza to shoot with confidence instead of caution.
After all, fear is the mind-killer.
Power Forward: Terrence Jones vs. Dirk Nowitzki
Ah, yes. The one exception to the Jones Corollary. Dirk dominates a lot of people, so it's hardly T-Jones' fault. But the Rockets need him to be aggressive down low. If he gets chances to take Dirk off the bounce he has to take advantage because his athleticism is the one thing that is better than what Dirk has.
On defense, he'll have to stick to Dirk and not get lost on screens. Furthermore, Dirk will complain whenever he misses a jump shot so it will be difficult for Jones to stay out of foul trouble (now we just wait for the shitstorm from Mavs fans complaining about how Harden "gets all the calls and is a flopper") but he has to find a way.
Center: Clint Capela vs. Zaza Pachulia
Pachulia is averaging 11/10 on the season. That's unexpected from pretty much everyone. After all, Pachulia hasn't averaged numbers like this since...ever. No, really. It's the 13th season for the 31-year-old veteran and in only one season has he averaged double-digit points. And he's never averaged more than 8 boards per game.
Capela is averaging 8/6 on the year but the situations are obviously different. Pachulia is THE GUY for the Mavs in the middle until JaVale McGee proves he can play. Capela has moved all over the place for Houston. He has started at center, power forward, and has backed up Dwight Howard on other nights. When all is said and done, he's averaging 19 minutes per night. He'll probably get close to doubling that tonight if he can stay on the court.
Rockets: Jason Terry, Ty Lawson, Marcus Thornton, Corey Brewer
Mavericks: Raymond Felton, Dwight Powell, Charlie Villanueva, Devin Harris, John Jenkins
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