The Dallas Mavericks (26-29), coming off a thrilling come-from-behind victory at home Sunday afternoon against the Portland Trail Blazers, now hit the road to face the hot hand of James Harden and the Houston Rockets (32-23). This is their third meeting with the division opponent, winning the previous two matchups in dramatically different ways.
The Mavericks look a lot different from when they last met, and as it will be for the rest of the season, they will be learning matchups and rotations on the fly while Rick Carlisle continues to explore all the new pieces available to him. One thing is certainly a constant, and that’s dynamic rookie Luka Doncic, who is assuming an even larger role since the trades of all four of his starter teammates.
Here is what we’ll watch for in tonight’s battle:
As mentioned above, the rookie has had to shoulder a large responsibility this season, but even more so since the trade deadline moves to ship out Dennis Smith Jr., Wesley Matthews, Harrison Barnes and DeAndre Jordan. But that’s also perfectly fine from the decision makers in Dallas. He has shown the ability to be the centerpiece of this team, and the Mavericks front office is now tasked with placing complimentary pieces around him.
And even still with this makeshift roster of trade pieces and young role players, Doncic has upped his game. Now the roster leader in points, rebounds, assists and steals, Luka continues to be dynamic both creating for himself and others. And the easy flow of the offense since the trades has been notable. In his four games since the trade, the rookie is averaging 25.5 points, eight rebounds and six assists (going 3-1 in games he’s played, 3-2 overall).
Doncic has also shown out especially in two games where large contingents of fans from Slovenia have attended — in Cleveland where he totaled 35 points, 11 rebounds and six assists, and at home Sunday, where he came on strong in the clutch and led with 28 points, nine rebounds and six assists. The over 100 Slovenian fans will make the trip down to Houston tonight, and be back in Dallas on Wednesday for the game against the Miami Heat.
James Harden cannot be stopped
The Rockets have played 30 games since they last faced the Mavericks on December 8th. The first game (after the Mavs beat them 107-104 in Dallas) Harden scored 29 points. In the 29 games since he has scored 30 or more, an absolutely insane tear of basketball where he’s averaged 42 points and nearly eight rebounds and eight assists, while shooting over 37 percent from three.
The reigning MVP and all-star has carried the Rockets for much of this season, as they slowly start to get healthy and add new pieces from trades and buyouts. In his two games against Dallas he’s posted 35 points and 25 points (with 17 assists and 11 rebounds in that game), though the Mavericks have still found ways to win. But they’ve yet to face this scoring streak Harden. Perhaps the focus will be on shutting down the pieces around him first, and hope they can keep pace.
Finding Roles for new players
The Mavericks’ focus the rest of this season should be on sorting out roles for players that will be around next season when they add Kristaps Porzingis (and maybe a third star this summer). One new addition that is starting to assert himself is Tim Hardaway Jr., who had a solid game Sunday in Dallas, contributing a much needed 24 points, four rebounds and three assists. His reputation as a volume shooter is proving true in his first few games, but the Mavericks needed that volume Sunday, and will need his athleticism in the future. He provides useful tools that few other players on the roster can offensively at this point.
Additionally, Trey Burke is starting to find chemistry with his bench teammates. His ability to run a pick and roll, while also being a spot shooter around the perimeter is something Rick Carlisle will continue to value, even if it’s just the rest of this season.
Rotation spots for Courtney Lee and Justin Jackson are still being ironed out, and in the next 27 games, Carlisle should continuing toying with lineups to see which puzzle pieces fit together.
How to Watch
Tip off is set for 7 CT, and can be watched on FSSW, the FoxSports Go app, NBA TV, or LeagePass.