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Mavs at Rockets preview: Offense versus defense

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Tonight in Houston, the Mavericks' league-best offense will meet Houston's number one defense. Who'll come out on top?

Matthew Emmons-USA TODAY Sports

Tonight's game in Houston will see Chandler Parsons face his old team for the first time in the regular season, as Dallas' league-leading offense takes on the Houston's number one defense. On the other end of the court, Dallas' defense has been slowly improving over the last few games, while the Rockets' offense continues to struggle, hampered by a depleted frontcourt lineup (and lots of turnovers). Let's hope these trends hold up on the second night of a back-to-back for the Mavs.

The Rockets' offseason moves are well documented by this site, so let's dive right into what they've done since the season started.

What have the Rockets done lately?

Houston opened the week at the top of most power rankings, ceding the number one slot only to the Warriors on any of the major lists. On Monday their record was an impressive 9-1, with their only loss coming at the hands of Golden State, whose impressive offense they managed to hold to fewer than 100 points. But since then, they've dropped games to Memphis (understandable) and the Lakers (less understandable, even with Dwight Howard missing the game thanks to a sore knee), falling to 9-3.

These losses come on the heels of very narrow wins over the NBA's junior varsity team from Philadelphia and the almost unrecognizably depleted Thunder. The Rockets now have the fourth-best record in the Western Conference, but their 9-3 record is thanks in part to a pretty weak schedule, with two of their 12 games played against the Sixers. They've also suffered from a few injuries to their frontcourt, with Dwight Howard missing two games and Terrence Jones out indefinitely with a knee injury.

What might surprise you about Houston?

This won't come as much of a surprise if you've been watching the Rockets this season, but if tonight's game will be your first, you may be shocked at how the balance between offense and defense has shifted. Last year, the Rockets ended the season with the fourth best offense and 12th best defense, but going into tonight's game, they're leading the league in defensive efficiency but playing quite poorly on offense. They're 22nd in points per possession with only so-so shooting, hampered by their tendency to turn the ball over more than 17 times per game despite playing at a middle-of-the-pack pace. Their strategy hasn't changed: Houston once again leads the league in three-point attempts, but so far they aren't making them at the rate they were last year.

Still, it's early in the season and there's plenty of time for James Harden to shoot his way out of his three-point slump and the Rockets to pull it together. The Dream Shake offers up a good argument that it's too early to write them off. If this is just a temporary downturn, then Dallas (and the rest of the West) is rather unlucky that it occurred during such a light segment of Houston's schedule.

What's the biggest match-up to watch?

Chandler Parsons versus Trevor Ariza on the wing will be fun, because everyone loves offseason drama, but the most exciting match-up on the floor would be Tyson Chandler and Dwight Howard. Howard missed Wednesday's game with a sore knee and is currently listed as questionable for tonight's game, but for the sake of awesome basketball, we should hope he's up to playing this evening. These guys are two of the best centers in the league, both top ten in rebounds, blocks, and field goal percentage. It'll be a shame if we don't get to see them battle it out.

On the perimeter, Monta Ellis and Patrick Beverly are basically Rockets versus Mavs in a nutshell: on nights when Monta's having it all, he can be tough to stop on offense, while Beverley is one of the scrappiest defensive guards in the league. If they match up, it should be fun to watch.

Who might be due for a big-game?

After watching J.J. Barea light up the Wizards on Wednesday, I'm swearing off single-player, single-game predictions for good. Leave your guesses in the comments if you're feeling bold, though!