Finally, some meaningful basketball.
It’s been difficult to get myself up for the scrimmage games, and I’ve made it known that I don’t think the NBA should have finished the season in the first place. I respect the fact that people need a diversion, and I’m impressed with the ability of the NBA to eliminate positive COVID tests in the Orlando bubble. Luckily for the average fan, the league didn’t take my opinion into account when they made the decision to restart the season.
Anyway, the Rockets start their seeding games tonight with the opponent hot on their heels in the Western Conference standings, the Dallas Mavericks. The Rockets and Mavs have met twice already this year, with the season series being split 1-1. Therefore, tonight’s game represents the tiebreaker between the two teams. However, since Houston is starting the seeding games having played three fewer games total than Dallas, the teams cannot possibly be tied by the end of the year and thus the tiebreaker goes out the window. A loss tonight still leaves Houston a half-game ahead of Dallas and fully in control of their destiny when it comes to the sixth spot in the West.
And make no mistake: both teams are desperate to stay out of the seventh spot. With the Los Angeles Clippers currently holding the second spot (though they are only 1.5 games up on Denver), all four teams in the Utah-OKC-Houston-Dallas quartet will be fighting to stay away from a first round date with Kawhi Leonard and the dangerous Clips. Most pundits, including several of us here at The Dream Shake, see the Western Conference Finals being sure to involve the two Los Angeles teams. While the Clippers aren’t necessarily concerned with dropping to the third seed since homecourt advantage is irrelevant, we might see some jockeying by the aforementioned four teams leading in the final games based on the Clips’ position in the standings.
The Mavericks went 2-1 in their scrimmages, with wins over the Lakers and 76ers. Obviously, those wins don’t tell us much about how well they are playing, but the Mavs scored 108 or more in each game, including the first scrimmage where the quarters were just ten minutes long. That bodes well for their offense. Defensively, they aren’t likely to slow many teams down, especially with injuries sidelining Dwight Powell and Courtney Lee, and Willie Cauley-Stein skipping the restart due to expecting a child. Jalen Brunson is also out with an injury.
Dallas can still throw Rocket-killer Tim Hardaway Jr. and Dorian Finney-Smith at James Harden, with Michael Kidd-Gilchrist available as well. Kristaps Porzingis has had some big games against Houston, and if he’s willing to play inside he could have a big night. The Mavs have used him as a stretch five to give Luka Doncic more room to maneuver, in what is yet another way in which Doncic is basically just James Harden if the media treated him fairly. The Mavs have copied Houston’s strategy of surrounding Luka with four shooters most of the time, and it works.
Houston will be hit hard by the loss of Eric Gordon, who is likely to miss all of the seeding games. The value of EG has been dissected ad nauseam here, but there’s no denying that the Rockets are at their best when EG is healthy and playing well. He’ll be missed. Houston needs Danuel House Jr. to step up in a way he didn’t last year when the games mattered.
Tip-off is 8pm CT on ESPN and AT&T Southwest