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Mavs visit Rockets in key division matchup

The Mavs continue their brutal schedule with a visit to Houston in a game that we all might look back on come April.

Troy Taormina-USA TODAY Sports

The month of January hasn't been kind to the Mavericks. Tough games and a few losses that should have been wins have Dallas sitting at No. 6 in the Western Conference with a 25-20 mark. Right behind them? The 23-22 Houston Rockets, who Dallas visits on Sunday afternoon. It's still so early, but these are the kinds of games Dallas will look back to in April when teams are fighting for playoff position.

What have the Rockets done lately?

Houston has improved since its disastrous start to the season, which led to the firing of Kevin McHale. The Rockets began January with losses to the Spurs and Warriors before winning four straight. Since then, however, they've lost three of their last five.

The Rockets have underachieved vastly this season, especially after trading for Ty Lawson in the offseason and being pegged as title contenders. But James Harden can still go nuts on any given night, and, if he plays, Dwight Howard can cause Dallas issues. Howard didn't play in Houston's last game against the Bucks, so we'll see what his status is for Sunday.

Oh, by the way, Houston re-acquired Josh Smith for nothing from Clippers on Friday. Smith left Houston in free agency, but clearly things weren't working out in LA. Howard and Smith caused lots of problems for Dallas in the playoffs last season, so it'll be interesting to see if that happens again.

What's the biggest matchup to watch?

James Harden vs. Wesley Matthews is the easy option here. Houston and Dallas have played twice this season, but Matthews only played in one of those games. In that game, a 100-96 Houston win, Harden dropped 25 points, eight rebounds and nine assists, while Matthews had just five points and five rebounds.

That game was more than a month ago, and Matthews has steadily improved since then. What Dallas needs is the defensive-performance that shut down Jimmy Butler last week when the Bulls came to town. Harden did shoot 10-of-23 the last time these two teams played, but a defensive masterpiece from Matthews is what could push the Mavs to a win.

What Mavs player is due for a big game?

Chandler Parsons has been really good lately, so it might be weird to say he's 'due' for a big game. But what he is due for is a big game against his former team. Parsons was still on his minutes restriction when the two last met and had just nine points. Remember, Parsons never even got much of a chance to compete against Houston in the playoffs last year in the playoffs. A big game in front of the Houston crowd is something Parsons surely wants, and the Mavs may need it with Dirk Nowitzki questionable for Sunday with the same right knee issue.

How to watch

The game can be watched on Fox Sports Southwest or NBA League Pass. But, remember, it's an afternoon game and tipoff is set for 2:30 p.m.