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Mavericks look to go 2-0 against an improving Rockets team

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The Mavs face off against their foes to the south for the second time this season.

Thomas B. Shea-USA TODAY Sports

Following a quick jaunt out West, the Mavericks return home to face the Houston Rockets. Did you know it's the first time since January of 2013 that the Mavericks have played the Rockets in a regular season game and it won't be on the back end of a back-to-back? NBA scheduling is quirky like that. It's been nearly three weeks since the Mavericks shocking 110-98 win over the Rockets, playing without three starters on a road back-to-back. Dallas enters the game with an 11-8 record, while Houston mirrors them with an 8-11 record.

What's gone on in Houston since we last saw them?

Far too much for a team that played in the Western Conference Finals last year. After stating 4-7 (including the aformentioned loss to Dallas), the Rockets up and fired coach Kevin McHale. It was largely seen as a reach, since McHale was key in getting Houston past a talented Clippers squad last season (He benched James Harden near the end of the first elimination game, when the Rockets were down 3-1. Houston came back to win the game and the series.).

Since the firing the Rockets have played better, but instead of losing two out of every three games, they are now losing one out of every two. James Harden's offensive resurgence is a big reason for their improvement, but the Rockets still look a step slow both offensively and defensively.

Which Rockets player is due for a big game?

James Harden finished the first match up with 25 point and 10 assists, but shot a God awful five of 21 from the field. We know he'll continue to get to the free throw line since the Mavericks do not have an elite ball defender right now, but Dallas must have a player committed to impeding Harden at all times. Harden's biggest problem this season is his conditioning and he's not been able to get much separation on the dribble, which hasn't allowed his subtle head and body fakes to work to the extent that they did last year. If the Mavericks can force him into taking contested shots from behind the arc (where he's shooting just 29 percent), Dallas has a good chance to stifle the former MVP candidate.

What's the most surprising stat about the Houston Rockets?

They are giving up 108.7 points per game. That's 28th in the league. That is horrible.

What's the biggest match-up to watch?

It's worth seeing where Dirk gets hidden defensively. Clint Capela is waaaay too athletic for Dirk to stick with. Terrance Jones is the kind of multi-talented, Draymond Green-lite forward that has burned Dirk in his later years. Neither can stick with him on the offensive end, of course, but where Rick Carlisle assigns the Big German defensively will be worth paying close attention to. Does he ask Dirk to pester Dwight Howard? Does he place him on Trevor Ariza and dare Ariza to beat Dirk off the dribble or from distance?

How to watch

FSSW at 7:30 p.m. CST or on NBA League Pass via your streaming device of choice.