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3 things to watch for as the Mavericks take on the Rockets in Houston on Friday

Dallas is hoping defense really does travel

NBA: Houston Rockets at Dallas Mavericks Kevin Jairaj-USA TODAY Sports

The Dallas Mavericks (20-18) fresh off the high of 41Forever and a big home win over the first place Golden State Warriors will hit the road to take on the last place Houston Rockets (11-28). The Rockets snapped an eight game losing streak on Wednesday night in Washington. Despite Dallas’ COVID (and ankle) related roster turmoil, they currently sit at fifth in the Western Conference and need to take advantage of a team that’s already looking ahead to the lottery.

Every Mavs fan on the planet (we were all watching) screamed “No!!” in unison as Luka Doncic twisted his right ankle again late in the win over Golden State. He’s currently listed as day to day with ESPN’s Tim McMahon reporting that he is doubtful. Health and Safety Protocols will keep Kristaps Porzingis out for a second straight game.

On Defense

Don’t look now but the Maverick’s defensive improvements may be for real. They’re clocking in at sixth in the NBA in defensive rating and have been creeping steadily up that list. They passed a huge test Wednesday night against Golden State, harassing the Warriors into an 82 point night to make Dirk’s big night that much sweeter. We’ll see if Dallas is able to dial up the same effort against an inferior team on a night when they’re not trying to make Dirk proud.

Earlier in the season the team understandably struggled at times to adapt to the new scheme and at other times let their defensive intensity head south with their shooting percentage, but as of late, the defense has been there for the Mavs even when the shooting hasn’t. That’s an excellent sign for this team’s disposition going forward.

On Offense

Houston is next to last in defensive rating on the season, followed only by a Portland defense that the Mavericks embarrassed a week ago. Crisp ball and player movement should make for a big offensive night against a young team that doesn’t like to defend.

Dallas’ offense can help their defense in this one, as well. Houston loves to get out and run, averaging the third fastest pace in the league while Dallas is dead last in pace. If the Mavericks score efficiently in their half-court sets, it won’t allow Houston to get into transition off of missed shots.

Let Down?

In the past, this Maverick’s team had a tendency to play up and down to their competition. They’d look like contenders one night while beating a top team and then wouldn’t show up the next night against a team trying to tank. While Dallas has had a number of poor efforts this season, that particular pattern hasn’t emerged. Maybe it’s a sign of team maturity or being able to rely more on players like Jalen Brunson, or perhaps their new defensive identity plays particularly well against less talented teams. With Luka doubtful, Brunson is likely to have to carry the playmaking duties once again, and the team will need to bring the defensive energy they had on Wednesday.

How to Watch

You can watch this one locally on Bally Sports Southwest and nationally on NBA League Pass at 7 p.m. CST.