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Game Day: Houston Rockets Trying to Avoid Third Loss In Row Face Dallas

By Tamberlyn Richardson
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Houston Rockets Game Day: Rockets vs. Mavericks

If you’re starting to wonder if it’s going to be an up and down season join the club. The Houston Rockets started the season 0-3 start, went unbeaten week 2 (4-0) and haven’t won in week three (0-2).  Traveling to Denver it was felt Ty Lawson would make up for his poor first performance on opening night, but it may have been his worst effort of the season. Now the Rockets return home to face their Southwest Division Rival Dallas Mavericks who based on a win over Los Angeles Lakers hold a one game advantage on Houston.

The last time these teams met it was in the post season when the Rockets had little problem dispensing of Dallas and hosted the infamous falling out of Rajon Rondo vs. Mavericks head coach Rick Carlisle.

Already dealing with intense scrutiny for their season start another loss to Dallas will only serve to put added pressure on what appears to be an already unstable Rockets team.  Let’s look at the game and how Houston can get back on track:

The Details

Venue:   Toyota Center, Houston

Game Time: 8:00 PM EST – 7:00 PM CT

TV: ROOT

Radio: 790 AM in Houston

Recent History:

Walking Wounded:

Mavericks:

Rockets:

  •  Patrick Beverley sustained a twisted ankle which will probably keep him out
  • Dwight Howard will sit out tonight as part of the Rockets rest program for him this season
  • Donatas Motiejunas – still recovering from off season back surgery, no update on scheduled return date

Projected Starters:

Mavericks: Deron Williams, Raymond FeltonWesley MatthewsDirk Nowitzki, Zaza Pachulia

Rockets: Ty Lawson, James Harden, , Trevor Ariza, Terrence Jones,  Clint Capela

Grading the Match-ups:

Point Guard – Deron Williams vs Ty Lawson:

Given the roll Dallas is on he’s starting to make pundits think Williams move to Dallas was wise. Personally I’d credit head coach Rick Carlisle who always seem to be able to coax better play out of his players, especially those in the latter stages of their careers (Rajon Rondo, not withstanding).

Conversely Lawson’s performance of late it’s hard to understand what’s going on. One would think facing his former team given all the comments they made about his lack of professionalism he would have been pumped to perform in Denver on Friday. The absolute opposite occurred as he was at his worst. Has me wondering if he’s as invested in winning and whether his presence is an issue in the locker room that is spilling out on the court. Or maybe we just need to stay patient as he integrates.

Edge: Deron Williams – No choice given Lawson’s week. This should be a no-brainer with Lawson taking the match-up given his speed and offensive versatility and I hope I’m wrong. But until Lawson showcases improvement it will be difficult to register much belief in him.

Shooting Guard: Raymond Felton vs. James Harden

Felton is another example of the aging players who Rick Carlisle has worked his magic on. He won’t kill you offensively, but when he’s dialed in on defense he can be a pest. Problem is he’s facing the best shooting guard in the NBA.

Harden is scoring, that’s not the issue, however his consistency and shooting efficiency is. This points to the fact Harden as much as Lawson is having a hard time with the integration of the diminutive point guard into the Rockets system. He’s so used to having the ball in his hands I guess it’s throwing off the entire flow of his game. In the 4 wins Harden took over the game and ball handling, but it stands to reason the Rockets are trying to move away from that, otherwise why go add a high caliber point guard to the team.

Edge: James Harden  – pray for a better shooting percentage and hopefully facing their interstate rivals it will equate to the Rockets back court finally breaking through to find a rhythm and flow to their games.

Small Forward:   Wesley Matthews vs  Trevor Ariza

Matthews had a break out effort this week in the game versus the Clippers and seems to be well on his way back from his Achilles Tendon injury. He brings feistiness, energy, defense and versatile scoring to the court which will make Ariza’s job super difficult. Not sure how a second night of a back to back will affect Matthews, but he’s the type of player to get up for big games and this one will be that for the Mavericks who hold a one game advantage over Houston and look to make it two.

I might disagree with one of the SCS scribes on Ariza in terms of them feeling he isn’t bringing enough to the table and that’s because Ariza is still the main defender on the court. As much as Harden is struggling with the integration of Lawson the player who has been picking up the slack defensively is Ariza. He still managed to tie Jones for best plus – minus in Denver and though I wouldn’t call it one of his better performances he is trying to make up for players missing defensive coverages. Would I rather he scored more 3’s sure, but I’d rather his teammates made life easier for him on the defensive end.

Edge: Raymond Felton  Difficult match-up for Ariza who’ll need to demonstrate why he’s referred to as a 2-way player tonight

Power Forward: Dirk Nowitzki vs Terrence Jones

At 37 the fact Nowitzki still hits fall away 3-pointers with his trademark leg in the air is beyond rational. Entering the season it felt like Dallas would be the team who would flounder based on the loss of Jordan, but they’ve exceeded expectations. Through their first 9 games Dirk is ahead of his stats from last season. He remains one of the most fluid shooters in the NBA, not to mention one of the Associations most affable characters.

Still not sure who’ll play the forward positions. McHale could reinsert Thornton at the three and move Ariza to the four, but I’m taking an educated guess Jones performance in Denver finds him back playing a starting role to add height to the line-up.

Edge: Dirk Nowitzki The logical choice should be Jones given his youth and the teams both playing on back to backs, but the wily smooth shooting vet gets the edge based on how the 2 teams have performed this week specifically. Oh, and there is that matter of Dirk getting up for statement games which this will be given the Rockets sent him home in the first round of last seasons playoffs.

Center: Zaza Pachulia vs Clint Capela

Coming off a big win the Mavericks big man is averaging a double-double in his 13th season. This is definitely more than anyone expected from the Georgian when they picked him up to replace the guy (DeAndre Jordan) who backed on his initial hand shake deal. Not to sound like a broken record, but you have to give Carlisle credit for Pachulia posting his best numbers in nine years as well as his career best on the boards

For his part though it’s his first full season playing with the varsity squad Capela has done whatever is requested of him and is showing significant progress. Tonight he has to be careful not to underestimate Pachulia given his craftiness and avoid being drawn into early fouls. His speed and ability to finish in the paint should cause Zaza some trouble and maybe just maybe we’ll get Lawson trying to work the pick and roll with him to gain an extra advantage with their speed.

Slight Edge: Clint Capela  I waffled on this pick, but given his young legs and both teams playing the second night of back to backs it should translate into Capela being able to beat Pachulia down the court for easy scoring opportunities

Reserves:

Mavericks: Dwight Powell, J.J. Barea, Justin Anderson

Rockets: Marcus Thornton, Corey Brewer,  Montrezl Harrell

Canadian Dwight Powell has been impressive through the early season and I absolutely loved Dallas’ draft pick of Justin Anderson. Barea is a pest and a speedster who provides challenges to defenses to stay in front of him.

For the Rockets many are wondering what’s going on with Corey Brewer who hasn’t been playing up to last season’s standards. It could be a matter of the entire team being in flux trying to get their chemistry and identity nailed down, but the Rockets will need him to improve if they expect to return to the top of the Western leader boards. Conversely Thornton has been the best surprise of the early season and not just his scoring (which has been through the roof and consistent), but his intangibles.

Edge: Dallas – If you’d asked me a week ago who had the edge I would have made the Rockets a clear favorite, but after 2 straight losses against inferior teams it’s obvious this team is in turmoil needing to figure out their identity on and off the court. Who would have thought one small point guard could alter a team who appeared to have a solid grasp of their identity and and unbreakable chemistry. Go figure.

Keys to Winning:

Attack the Paint:

More from Space City Scoop

While Houston hold a distinct advantage in scoring in the paint without Howard playing the edge dissipates. Simply put the defense needs to improve and there’s no present time like NOW to do so. The Rockets rank 20th in rebounding and 27th in opponent scoring punctuating how poorly they’ve been on that end of the floor. The good news is Dallas isn’t performing much better on that end of the court.

Three Ball Anyone?

Last season the Rockets were among the league leaders in 3 point scoring and in 3 point defense. This season they rank 28th in scoring shooting the 3-ball at 28% though Dallas isn’t much better ranking 25th shooting 31.6%.  The Rockets still lead the league in attempts taking 31.8 per game and connecting on just 9 whereas Dallas take 25.3 and connect on 8. As for defense of the three Houston have dropped to 27th in defense of the 3 while Dallas has improved their perimeter defense moving up to 7th. It begs the question, shouldn’t Houston be worrying about ball movement and paint scoring first and then they can integrate their 3-point shooting back into the game plan.

Keep It Simple:

It’s a given Dallas will be dialed in to win given the Rockets were the team who ousted them last season. The question is which Rockets team will show up: the one who took down power house Western squads OKC and LAC or the one who lost to the bottom feeding Nets and middling Nuggets. For now the best bet is to keep things as simple as possible by doing the fundamental things like moving the ball up the court quickly, attacking the paint and asserting their effort and talent on defense.

Prediction:

The odds makers give Houston a 5.5 point edge with an over/under of 209.5.

Let’s face it the Rockets need to stop the losing if they want to save any semblance of respect for themselves after an absolutely horrendous week. Losses to the bottom feeding Nets opened a can of worms, but then losing for the second time this season versus Denver was embarrassing. At this point there are more questions than answers regarding what’s going on with this Rockets squad and they better fix them soon or risk plummeting even further down the standings. One would have thought 3 days of practice would help instead it seems to have made the situation worse.

I’m a loss of where to place them tonight given the Jekyll and Hyde nature of this team. At the end of the day what prevails… a team looking for payback (Dallas) or a team who knows the microscopic lens of why they aren’t living up to expectations grows bigger (Houston).

The one thing I do know is James Harden is a competitor who’ll want to prove his team and his leadership skills are still among the Association’s best. For that reason I’ll give Houston the edge, but it says here if the Rockets get blown out Kevin McHale could find his seat getting hot or a trade to fix whatever is ailing the Rockets could be coming.

Houston by 2

For more exciting news and stories on the Denver Nuggets visit our affiliate Fansided site: The Smoking Cuban

And check our our Preseason Team Preview of the Dallas Mavericks:

Next: Mavericks Recovery From The Shaft

Make sure you catch up on our entire Team Preview Series, our Houston Rockets Player Profile Series as well as our SCS Round Table Sessions to help you get through the early season. Start your morning with SCS Rocket Science Daily and visit us throughout the day to keep abreast of all your Houston Rockets news and updates.

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