The Dallas Mavericks (28-21) are hitting their stride and reaching their peak form. Winners of their last five games, the Mavericks have looked like the dominant playoff team we knew they could be coming into this season. Dallas has won their last five games by a combined 69 points. Sure, there were some games against teams well below .500, but the Mavericks are winning and that’s what’s important.
Meanwhile, the Houston Rockets (13-37) have reached unsalvageable levels of bad. The Rockets started their season with a record of 11-10, as the ghost of James Harden and a dominant Christian Wood propelled them to victory. But since Feb. 6, the Rockets are an unbelievable 2-27, with their only wins coming against Toronto and Minnesota. During that time span, the Rockets have the league’s fourth-worst offensive efficiency, third-worst defensive efficiency, and second-worst effective field goal percentage.
This is not the team you want to lose to. Rather, this is another opportunity for you to continue your climb in standings. But let’s consider three things before we write the Rockets off:
Who shows up for Houston?
Danuel House Jr., Eric Gordon and John Wall are all expected to miss this game. That’s been the story for Houston this season — players filling in when injuries or trades shake the rotation up. In case you need an example of that, Kelly Olynyk is the team’s leading scorer over the Rockets’ last nine games.
Even with the odd numbers that pop up, there are still a number of guys you have to account for. Kevin Porter Jr. has found a home in Houston, averaging 15.6 points and 6.1 assists per game this season. Rookie Jae’Sean Tate has been especially good lately. Over his last nine games, Tate is averaging 14.3 points, 5.8 rebounds and 3.4 assists, all on 55.6/40/75 shooting splits. Despite the Rockets’ remarkably bad record, there are still a number of guys you have to account for to make sure you walk away with a victory.
Can you stop Christian Wood?
Christian Wood started his season on track to become an All-Star and compete for the league’s Most Improved Player award. In his first 17 games of the season, Wood scored 22.0 points, grabbed 10.2 rebounds, and blocked 1.5 shots per game. He did all that while also shooting 42.1 percent on 4.5 three-point attempts per game.
Wood’s award campaign was stumped when he suffered an ugly ankle injury and missed 17 straight games. He hasn’t been the same player since that injury, be he has still been very good. In the 10 games he has played since the injury, Wood is averaging 19.1 points, 8.4 rebounds and 0.9 blocks per game.
The drop in “vertical” stats can be expected when you suffer an injury that hinders mobility, but Wood is still finding ways to score. Most noticeably, he’s getting to the free-throw line. Wood is shooting 6.4 free throws per game over his last 10 games, a sharp increase from the 3.8 he shot per game before his injury. He’s had to rely on that as his three-point percentage has plummeted to 27.7 percent during his return despite shooting 0.2 more threes per game.
The Mavericks three-point shooting over their last five games has been ridiculous. Dallas is shooting 40.2 percent from deep over their last five, which is good for only sixth-best in the league. But what really sticks out to me is how individual players are shooting during the stretch.
Luka Doncic is knocking down an impressive 43.8 percent of his mind-blowing 9.6 attempts per game. Dorian Finney-Smith is making 46.9 percent of his three-point shots. Josh Richardson is at a blistering 64.3 percent and Jalen Brunson is at 47.1 percent. Tim Hardaway Jr. is shooting 40.6 percent from deep, which seems par when compared to the rest of the group but you’ll take that any day of the week.
That makes five guys shooting 40 percent on a high volume of attempts. The only two players averaging more than 20 minutes a night and not shooting 40 percent from deep are Maxi Kleber (20%) and Kristaps Porzingis (30%). If those two guys — who are proven shot-makers — can start knocking them down as well, you’re in good shape.
How to watch
This game is tipping off at 7 p.m. CST and will be televised on Bally Sports Southwest. You can also watch on NBA League Pass if you are not local.