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4 things to watch for as the Mavericks visit the Houston Rockets

The Mavs hit the road to take on the new-look Rockets juggernaut.

NBA: Preseason-Houston Rockets at Memphis Grizzlies Nelson Chenault-USA TODAY Sports

Everyone ready for the first second-game-of-a-back-to-back of the season, the season’s first road game, and (potentially) the team’s first win? This should be fun.

A tale of two (missing) starting point guards

The Rockets made perhaps the biggest splash outside of OKC this offseason when they acquired Chris Paul from the LA Clippers. There were some initial questions about whether the Paul-Harden pairing would work in practice, but those questions have been answered in part with a huge win over the Golden State Warriors to open the season followed immediately by a victory over the Kings.

The transition for Paul hasn’t been completely smooth, though. He went 2-of-9 from the floor against Golden State and will be out tonight after missing Thursday night’s game against Sacramento with knee pain.

Unfortunately, the Rockets won’t be the only team missing its starting point guard tonight. Dennis Smith Jr. missed last night’s game against Sacramento and will be out again tonight with left knee swelling. Smith had a strong showing in his debut and with the team already short on guards (Seth Curry and Devin Harris are also out), his presence tonight will be sorely missed.

DE-FENSE! *clap clap* DE-FENSE!

Chris Paul’s absence isn’t the Rockets’ only challenge. Earlier this week, James Harden told ESPN that while the team would obviously be the elite offensive everyone expects, they’re going to be working on their team defense this season.

This statement was ... unexpected, to say the least. When it comes to Houston’s defense, Harden has historically demonstrated a level of disdain previously reserved for Allen Iverson and practice, so let’s get this out of our system...

via Business Insider
via Business Insider

Feel better?

To be fair, while Houston’s defense last season was far from elite, that wasn’t really James Harden’s fault. He certainly looked sharper last year than at his defensive nadir.

But despite being second only to Golden State on offense, the Rockets didn’t crack the top 10 in any major defensive metric last season and were frequently found in the bottom half of the league. In true Mike D’Antoni style, this didn’t matter much in the regular season, but only got the team as far as the second round in the playoffs.

The second round is nothing to sneeze at, but the team obviously has grander ambitions this season. And as they showed on Wednesday, the new additions, from Chris Paul to Luc Mbah a Moute and P.J. Tucker, may have had the desired defensive effect.

Looking at stats this early in the season is a fool’s errand, but it’ll be interesting to see whether this team is capable of greatness at both ends of the court.

The Mavericks’ rotation issues

During the Mavs’ season opener against Atlanta, Rick Carlisle limited Nerlens Noel to just 20 minutes on the floor and kept him on the bench in favor of Dwight Powell down the stretch of a close game that Dallas would eventually lose.

The Internet was not pleased.

For those of us who hoped the Noel drama would unfold off the court, this was both surprising and disappointing, especially since the young big man put up fantastic stats in his limited minutes, going 6-of-6 from the field with 11 rebounds and 3 blocks. In just 20 minutes.

But either Carlisle is taking cues from basketball Twitter or the team is still figuring out how their pieces best work together, because Noel got the start last night against the Kings and played about as many minutes as Dirk (27).

The Mavericks’ rebounding issues

And finally, the Mavericks have been massively out-rebounded the last two games, despite decent to excellent efforts from Nerlens Noel. They were outdone 50-41 by the Hawks and 57-36 by the Kings. But perhaps most striking is that they’ve given up 30 offensive rebounds in just two games.

Playing Noel more minutes may be a partial solution, but it’s something the Mavericks will have to find an answer for as the season continues.

How to watch

Tonight’s game tips off at 7:30pm Central and can be seen locally on Fox Sports Southwest and elsewhere on NBA League Pass.