Which team stat might determine the game?
Turnovers and free throws. 16.8 percent of Houston's offensive possessions result in a turnover. That is the worst mark in the league. Dallas holds on to the ball better than the Rockets but still turns it over at an above average clip. The Mavs have the upper hand in the number of turnovers they force. If the Mavericks can turn turnovers into transition opportunities it will bode well towards the outcome of the game.
However, Houston will slowdown the game with their parade to the charity stripe. The Rockets lead the league in getting to the line after a field goal attempt, doing so 34.7 percent of the time. That is simply an astounding mark. Dallas employed the oft reviled, albeit humorous, "Hack-a-Dwight" strategy in an effort to climb back into the game. Houston attempted 51 free throws that game and Howard led the way with 12. The Mavs cannot afford to send the Rockets to the line that many times again.
What's the biggest matchup to watch?
It would be easy to say that Dwight Howard versus Dallas tandem of Samuel Dalembert and DeJuan Blair would be the most important matchup of the game. However, James Harden versus the Mavs' defense will be the real story.
Harden is the leading scorer on Houston, averaging 25.2 points per game. He is also a very efficient scorer. Most of his shots come at the rim or behind the three-point arc. As of Monday, November 18, Harden has amassed 32 driving layup attempts and 16 layup attempts. 45 percent of his total shot attempts have come in the restricted area or the paint and 36 percent of his shots come from above the break. Midrange shots be damned. However, he is not shooting the three particularly well this season, just 28.6 percent.
What are the Rockets biggest strength and weakness?
As mentioned, Houston gets to the line a lot. Not only that, but they are the second highest scoring offense in the league. The Rockets are also one of the best rebounding teams in the league. They aren't perfect, though. We already looked at their propensity for turning the ball over but the biggest weakness on the team is their perimeter defense. It is simply atrocious. Watch Harden on this play, it sums up their perimeter defense.
What do the Mavs need to do to be successful against the Rockets?
The Mavericks likely won't win the rebounding battle in this game. However, there are a few key areas that the team should focus on in order to swing the tide in their favor.
Dallas needs to force turnovers, get out into transition, and look for quick and easy scoring opportunities. They also need to prevent Houston's guards from dribble penetrating into the lane which will inevitably set up open looks for either Howard or around the perimeter for players like Chandler Parsons. This is especially true of Harden Dallas' defense must force Harden to take jump shots rather than allow him to get to the rim. He is only shooting 28.4 percent on jump shots this season.
The Mavs need to limit the amount of fouls they commit. As noted above, Houston lives on the line. If Dallas has any hope of winning they cannot give up free scoring opportunities. If they can do these things then the Mavs could find success against their rival from down I-45. Of course, the Mavericks will have to score in buckets too.