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Four-Pointer: Previewing the Houston Rockets...again

The Houston Rockets sit a few games ahead of the Dallas Mavericks in the standings as they face-off for the last time this season. Dallas needs to win on their home floor against a potent offense to maintain the possibility of better playoff seeding in the future.

Matthew Emmons-USA TODAY Sports

What has Houston done lately?

Well, Houston started tearing down the Astrodome recently. Yup, the eighth wonder of the world. Apparently, repurposing the building is just too much of a revolutionary concept.

Wait, what? The Rockets? Huh? Oh, I see. They played basketball.

Oh, jokes, how we love them, right?

Anyway, the Rockets squeaked out a win against the undermanned Spurs at home last night after losing their previous two games to the Grizzlies. Houston, though, was also without one of its key players last night. James Harden missed the game. His eligibility for tonight's game against the Mavericks is uncertain at the time of this writing.

What are the Rockets' biggest strength and weakness?

Houston is a team that makes the hearts of anyone who has ever uttered the words "efficient shot" flutter. Over 52 percent of their shots come within eight feet of the rim. Slightly more than 33 percent of their shots come from behind the 3-point arc. 85 percent of their shots are efficient shots. That's pretty good. Not only that, but they make them.

Within eight feet the Rockets make over 58 percent of their shots. From downtown their success is equally impressive. They make over 38 percent of their shots from the left corner, over 36 percent from the right corner, and over 33 percent of their shots that come above the break.

All of this leads to the fifth most points per scored per game in the league. So, yes, this team is quite capable of scoring.

However, all those threes can also be a crutch. When they are finding nylon they are a devastating weapon. For that reason, Houston shoots them all the damn time. Yet, the Rockets are only ranked 24th in the league in 3-point shooting percentage. The lesson here is volume trumps accuracy.

Volume shooting helps cover up the defensive flaws that plague Houston. Their perimeter defense is atrocious. Have you seen James Harden defend? No, no one has because he doesn't. Neither does Chandler Parsons for that matter. Patrick Beverley is probably the team's most serviceable perimeter defender but he is a point guard and can truly only guard other point guards.

Which team stat might determine the game?

Defense! LOL. Yeah, there's not going to be any defense in this game. Actually, that is not entirely true. How each team defends the other's pick-and-roll will be crucial to the outcome of the game. Both Dwight Howard and Dirk Nowitzki will feature prominently in PnR opportunities.

Will the Rockets keep a man, probably Terrence Jones, glued to Nowitzki as he sets picks? Will the Mavs blitz Howard as he rolls towards the rim to prevent him from getting the ball? These situations will be key to determining who will win the game. Sorry, this isn't a stat that you can find in a box score.

Here is a stat you can find in a box score, though: free throws. The Rockets get to the line an annoying number of times per game. Just be prepared for it. The more they get there, the better chance they have at winning.

Which Mavericks player might be due for a big game?

I have no idea. Did anyone accurately call Melo going off for 62? What about Terrence Ross dropping 51? No. Big games are random and cannot be predicted. Instead, why don't we look at is as which Mav needs to perform as expected in order for Dallas to have a chance at winning? Since this is my preview, that is exactly what I am going to do.

Vince Carter is the Maverick that most needs to hit his averages. He leads the bench unit and will be called upon to facilitate and score. He has averaged 11.9 points on 41.9 percent shooting since the calendar turned over to 2014. He is also connecting on 38.8 percent of his 3-pointers. Carter needs to maintain numbers similar to these to alleviate the pressure that will be placed on Nowitzki and Monta Ellis to lead the team.