Coming off an embarrassing defeat to the Los Angeles Clippers, the Dallas Mavericks (10-6) are hoping to get back on track when they take on the Houston Rockets. The Rockets (8-6) have been a streaky team to start the season. After starting 0-3, they reeled off 6 wins, followed that up with a 3-game losing streak, and have won their last two games.
When looking at their team, that sort of volatility makes sense. The Rockets are a team in transition. Their past few seasons were marred by an overall lack of professionalism and accountability, questionable decision making, and a ton of lopsided losses. Led by Ime Udoka, the Rockets have started the difficult process of getting their players to buy into an actual system. For evidence, look no further than their defensive numbers. The Rockets are 3rd in the league in defensive rating (107.3). On paper, there’s nothing that stands out about them on the defensive end. They aren’t near the top of the league in turnovers. They are middle of the pack in terms of steals and blocks. Opponents aren’t particularly unlucky from 3. So, what is it, then?
The answer is coaching. They are a disciplined team that get back in transition and limit the number of easy baskets they gift the opposition. In fact, they remind me a lot of the Mavericks team of two years ago. As the game unfolds, pay attention to how many times they rotate properly and help cover for each other. Their defense is greater than the sum of it’s parts and Udoka deserves a tremendous amount of credit for this. They compete on the defensive end and give themselves the opportunity to win games despite their lack of firepower on the offensive end.
For Dallas, they, too, have been consistent but for all the wrong reasons. The defense has been atrocious. At times, laughably so. Our own Josh Bowe could publish a coffee table book full of screenshots in which our defense is out of sorts. Once you stop laughing at the absurdity of our spacing and court awareness, you quickly realize that nothing is being done to turn things around. If the coaches are trying to instill an actual gameplan, it’s clearly falling on deaf ears. With that said, let’s highlight two things to watch for in this divisional matchup.
Can the Mavericks grab a rebound?
We’ve spoken ad nauseum about the Maverick’s defensive issues. The defensive problems are complemented and compounded by their inability and unwillingness to rebound. On offense, the team’s style of play usually leaves just one player(usually the center) to crash the offensive glass. It has resulted in them being 6th worst in offensive rebounds per game. They average 5 less offensive rebounds per game than the Utah Jazz who lead the league. Not ideal but a team with our level of spacing will always struggle to grab offensive rebounds. What about the defensive glass? Surely, things look better on that end of the floor? Nope. The Mavericks rank 21st in defensive rebounds. They constantly give teams extra possessions and when you rank 25th in Defensive Rating, that’s a recipe for disaster.
What happens when an unstoppable force meets an immovable object?
The Maverick’s 7th ranked offense will be facing the league’s 3rd best defense. Luka and Kyrie’s individual brilliance means they can get their shots off against anybody. The question is whether the Rocket’s ability to rotate and provide timely help defense will eliminate the airpace Dallas’s role players need to get their shots off. Tim Hardaway Jr. is always ready to shoot. Players like Josh Green and company, often hesitate and that split second could be the difference between a wide open 3 and a contested shot over length. Passing up open looks and asking Luka and Kyrie to create in iso with 6 seconds or less on the shot clock is not sustainable. It puts more wear and tear on the duo and is part of the reason they tend to wear down late in games.
How to Watch
The game tips off Tuesday at 7:30 PM CST on Bally Sports Southwest.