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Game Day: Houston Rockets Look For Second Straight vs Dallas

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Apr 2, 2015; Dallas, TX, USA; Houston Rockets guard James Harden (13) sets the play during the second half against the Dallas Mavericks at the American Airlines Center. The Rockets defeated the Mavericks 108-101. Mandatory Credit: Jerome Miron-USA TODAY Sports

Game Day: Houston Rockets versus Dallas Mavericks

Last time the Houston Rockets and Dallas Mavericks met each other were on the second leg of a back to back in which Dallas was playing their fourth game in five nights and Houston playing their third in four.

In that meeting the Mavericks were without key starters Dirk Nowitzki and Wesley Matthews. Despite the absence of both players, Dallas was still able to run the tables in Houston with a 110-98 victory. That loss for Houston ultimately sparked the controversial rumors surrounding the firing of ex-head coach Kevin McHale.

This time around Houston visits a Dallas team that is fresh off two days of rest and an impressive overtime win in Portland where the Mavericks showed great resiliency against a feisty Blazers team. The Rockets are off one day of rest after an up lifting, come back win at home against a recuperating Pelicans team. Although changes have been made within the Houston coaching staff, the Mavericks are all too familiar with the team that sent them fishing with a first round exit in last year’s playoffs.

The Details

Venue: American Airlines Center, Dallas, TX

Game Time: 8:30 PM EST – 7:30 PM CT

TV: ROOT in Houston

Radio: 790 AM and ESPN 103.3

Recent History:

  • Nov 14 – DAL 110 HOU 98

Walking Wounded:

Mavericks:

  • J.J Barea – ankle, will miss fourth straight game tonight.

Rockets:

  • Sam Dekker – back, will be out 3 months
  • Donatas Motiejunas – still recovering from off season back surgery, no update on scheduled return date

Projected Starters:

Mavericks: Deron Williams,  Raymond Felton, Wesley Matthews   Dirk Nowitzki, Zaza Pachulia

Rockets: Patrick Beverley, James HardenTrevor Ariza, Dwight Howard Clint Capela

Reserves:

Mavericks: Charlie Villanueva, John Jenkins, Dwight Powell

Rockets: Marcus Thornton, Corey BrewerTy Lawson

Mavericks Offensive & Defensive Schemes:

Offensively the Mavericks are one of the most fundamentally sound teams in basketball. Counting on this veteran lead squad to shoot themselves in the foot is a huge mistake as they rank third overall in fewest turn overs per game with 13.7. A lot of their offensive success revolves around creating mis-matches for perhaps the greatest shooting big ever, Dirk Nowitzki. The Mavericks bread and butter play is a high ball screen between the point guard and Dirk. The call for this is either “HIGH FIVE” or “HIGH FOUR” depending on which position he’s currently playing (five being center, four being power forward). Defenses are forced to switch on this action leaving a smaller, hopeless defender on Dirk.

Coach Carlisle is without a doubt one of the premier head coaches in today’s league and is a genius when it comes to the X and O’s. He has really keened in on putting Dirk in his sweet spot through a plethora of timely efficient sets.

Outside of working the ball towards Nowitzki, Deron Williams and Wesley Matthews are great post up guards and have created issues for smaller back courts. In transition, you’ll see the Maverick’s guards use a lot of drag screens from Pachulia or Dwight Powell to create distraction for a trailing spot up three from Dirk or Villanueva.

Defensively, Dallas has put an emphasis on limiting transition opportunities by completely abandoning the offensive boards. This explains the reasoning behind Dallas ranking 29th in offensive rebounding with 8.5 per game. They also rank 29th in blocks per game with 3.7 thanks to the loss of Tyson Chandler (all stats per Teamrankings.com).

The front court rotation of Dwight Powell, Zaza Pachulia, Nowitzki and Villanueva is arguably the least athletic group in the league so not pursuing second chance opportunities and ranking second to last in blocks is plausible. But for what this front court lacks in athleticism they make up for with discipline and intelligence. Opponents are scoring only 39.2 points per game in the paint which can be attributed to the understanding of staying vertical beneath the rim is more than enough to alter most shots from that close.

The Mavericks are one the more sound defensive units as they do a outstanding job of cutting off driving lanes with tons of help limiting opponents to a field goal percentage of 36.8% on attempts within 5-9 feet of the rim. They’ve also been effectively closing out on shooters camped out on the perimeter as teams are shooting only 31.5% from deep.

Houston’s Approach:

The Rockets are a roster that is very well fit to counter this Dallas team as we’ve seen in the past. Houston’s size and depth (if used correctly) should counter act the post up tendencies of Williams and Matthews while eliminating any possible cross matches this Dallas offense thrives off of.

In hindsight, the clip below shows Portland defending “HIGH FIVE” pretty well as Damian Lillard immediately calls for the switch upon switching onto Dirk.

With closer evaluation, Portland defended the play to a “T”in large part to the play not being ran correctly. Dirk’s screen should be set to where Felton is dribbling towards the strong side leaving Dirk up top with the closest switchable defender being weak side corner.

Knowing that the play becomes a lot easier to defend once the ball handler is forced to the weak side, it would be wise for Houston to “ICE” the ball handler. (“ICE” is a defensive scheme made famous by Tom Thibodeau which requires the on ball defender to force the ball handler away from the screen.)

Noticeably most of Dallas’s offensive sets result to Dirk operating at the top of the key, on the elbows or near the block. This gives him a head start back on defense. At this day and age if Nowitzki is positioned in the corner or short corner of the floor, it is almost a sure bet that his man will beat him down floor.

In the clip above Meyers Leonard contests the shot and waits for the result and still beats Dirk down the floor. Since the Mavericks disregard offensive rebounding and Nowitzki is a “watch the ball” shooter, who ever is guarding him should sprint in transition right after contesting. This would create plenty of fast break opportunities for Houston. Brewer or Ariza would be ideal.

Again, this Mavericks team is fundamentally sound on defense but the glaring weak spot within this unit (jeez I hate that I’m picking on him so much) is Dirk. He’s a terrific help defender but has no business defending anyone 1 on 1 at the age of 37. Isolating Dirk against slashers such as Jones, Brewer or Ariza would force Carlisle to take him out of the game which would make life a whole lot easier for Houston on defense.

To Win Houston Must:

Not get lured into the temptation of firing away threes that’ll be open for a split second due to Dallas’s penetration prevent defense. Like Houston, the Mavericks are a analytically intuitive team. Meaning that they recognize the Rockets  are a volume three point shooting team, even though they’re only shooting it at 30.9% ranking them 28th amongst the league. Attack the interior where there is a lack of rim protection.

Tune in defensively for 48 minutes. Since the promotion of Bickerstaff, Houston has shown an improvement in terms of defensive intensity but only when they’re down. This team can’t continue to get comfortable when playing with a slight lead. A veteran team like Dallas will slowly chip away and find a way to win.

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

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