The Dallas Mavericks look for their fifth straight win, and to put some distance between themselves and the Houston Rockets.
Wednesday’s game against the Houston Rockets is a big one for the Dallas Mavericks. They all are at this point, but a win over their rivals would put the Mavs two games above .500, and add a little cushion to their lead over the ninth place Rockets in the standings.
This may be the biggest game of the season, at least so far. After their matchup with Houston, Dallas has the Grizzlies, Clippers, Jazz, and Spurs remaining on the schedule – all current playoff teams. Houston, on the other hand, has an easier remaining docket. They’ll face the Suns, Lakers, Timberwolves, and Kings – all bottom dwellers of the Western Conference.
It’s likely that Dallas won’t have to contend with the big guns of San Antonio on the last day of the season, as their spot in the pecking order has been pretty much established. But the Grizzlies and Jazz are fighting for position, and there is plenty of bad blood between Dallas and the Clips, who aren’t likely to sit anyone as they try to reincorporate Blake Griffin into the fold.
There is a lot riding on the outcome of this game. Here are some players to watch and numbers to know ahead of tip-off.
Players to Watch
The Dallas Mavericks have won four straight games, but it hasn’t been because their leading scorer is dominating. In fact, Dallas has won in spite of Dirk Nowitzki’s shooting from the field. During the Mavs’ streak, Nowitzki has shot just 27.6%. It’s almost inconceivable that the Mavericks, without Chandler Parsons and Deron Williams, would have success with Dirk slumping.
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Houston can put the ball in the basket – they’ve failed to crack triple digits only twice in 17 games since March 1st – and while the Mavericks have been playing strong team defense lately, at some point shots are going to have to fall.
Nowitzki has fared pretty well against Houston historically, and has averaged 17.5 points against them in two meetings this season. This is a big game, and it’s hard to bet against Dirk in a big game. Expect him to emerge from his slump tonight.
Honorable mention: Wesley Matthews
Wesley Matthews has been more of a consistent threat offensively since Chandler Parsons went down to injury. Dallas will need more of that, as well as their defensive specialist slowing down James Harden. Harden has averaged nearly a triple-double against Dallas this season, but has shot just 35% from the floor.
Who else but James Harden? As mentioned, Harden has posted averages of 24.3 points, 10.0 rebounds, and 9.7 assists against the Mavericks in three games this season. Matthews, and who ever else Rick Carlisle throws at the NBA’s second-highest scorer, will have their hands full. But if Dallas can force him into turnovers (4.6 a night in 2015-16), a high-volume shooting night, and as such limit his impact as a distributor, they’ll have a good shot.
Numbers to Know
Rick Carlisle has been using Justin Anderson more than ever during Dallas’ four-game winning streak. The rookie has averaged 27.2 minutes a night during that stretch, way up from his season average of 10.4.
Anderson has provided the team with energetic length on the defensive end and on the glass, and a weapon in transition that they really miss with Parsons being out. In his last four games, Anderson has scored just under eight points and come down with almost eight rebounds a game, while shooting over 56% from the field. Expect him to play a big role in tonight’s contest.
Overall, Houston is not a very good defensive ball club. They give up almost 107 points a night (23rd), don’t guard the perimeter very well, and give up more offensive rebounds than J.B. Bickerstaff would like. But the Rockets do force 16.5 turnovers a game, which is tops in the league. The live-ball turnovers are especially deadly against a team like Houston, which has plenty of athletes capable of doing damage in the open floor.
Houston is among the league leaders in fast break points per game, while Dallas is near the bottom in opponent transition points. Dallas typically does a good job holding on to the rock, but they’ll need to be extra judicious to avoid giving the Rockets easy opportunities.