By Bryan Murphy
Ask and you shall receive Mavs fans. Many, many Mavericks fans were hoping that the Mavs’ first round opponent would be the Houston Rockets. All of those that hoped for that to happen got their wish. The seven seed Dallas Mavericks will square off with its I-45 rival, the two seed Houston Rockets, in the first round of the NBA playoffs. I’m not exactly saying that I wanted Dallas to be matched up with Houston in the first round, but many people, myself included, prefer the Rockets over playing the Memphis Grizzlies, Los Angeles Clippers, and especially the red-hot San Antonio Spurs.
It’s quite comical that you would rather face a Rockets team that won 56 games this season in the wild Western Conference with a legitimate MVP candidate in James Harden. But first, let’s dive into a little Mavs and Rockets playoff history.
There isn’t much there.
These two teams have gone head-to-head in the playoffs just twice, both in the first round and both times Dallas prevailed victoriously. I wasn’t around in 1988 when Dallas took the first series 3-1 but I definitely remember the second series in 2005. The Mavs won in a wild seven games after falling behind early in that series in a 2-0 hole.
It was the beginning of the Jason Terry era for the Mavs back in 2005 and the irony of that is unreal. Terry signed with the Rockets this offseason in hopes of providing a spark off the bench for a contending team. Instead, he has filled in as a starter with Patrick Beverly out for the season with a wrist injury. It’s still tough to see the Jet in any uniform that isn’t a Maverick uniform, especially if it’s red. Don’t expect Terry to be a major factor in this series, though. The “wings” don’t come out as much as they did back in the 2011 Mavs championship season and I surely wouldn’t expect him to bust them out in this series, especially at the AAC.
Another juicy story line in this series is of course Chandler Parsons facing his former team. When speaking to the media, Parsons claimed that this wasn’t his main concern. “Everyone has a chance to win a championship and that’s the most exciting part. Not playing your former team. This series is much bigger than me going back there. It’s about us winning four games before they do.”
Parsons has also been dealing with a knee injury that kept him sidelined the last six games of the season. He is expected to play Game 1 but may be able to provide only about 25 minutes each game to begin the series due to his lack of conditioning.
Another player who is bouncing back from an injury is the Rockets big man Dwight Howard. Howard has played nine games since missing a big chunk of the season with a lingering knee issue. He averaged just 13.7 PPG in those nine games, while sitting out a few games in between. Also, one thing to note is that one of those outings was against the Mavs, where Howard was only able to put up eight points and seven rebounds in just 18 minutes of action. According to Rockets Head Coach Kevin McHale, Howard is expected to play around 30 minutes a game to begin the series.
Outside of Howard, this Rockets team is basically made up of spot up three-point shooters and James Harden. The Rockets attempted a whopping 2680 three-pointers while making an NBA record 933. That’s 50 more three’s made than the sharp shooting, young gun Golden State Warriors. The Rockets live and die by the three and of course are carried on the back by the guy with the beard.
The race for MVP this season is neck-and-neck between Harden and Steph Curry of the Golden State Warriors. Many people believe that Harden deserves it more due to the fact that he means more to his team. One of those guys is Mavericks owner Mark Cuban. In an article on Grantland.com, Cuban expressed his thoughts about his team’s first round foe.
“There’s no more predictable team than the Rockets. You know exactly what they’re gonna do,” he says. “But James Harden is so good. That’s what analytics have begot. If you know what the percentages are, in the playoffs, you have time to counter them. Whether you’re good enough to do it is another question. Because they are very talented, and James Harden, I think, is the MVP because that’s not a very good team over there.”
Shots fired. But hey, it’s not much of a surprise anymore when Cuban or Rockets general manager Daryl Morey fire shots at each other’s teams.
Harden, who averaged 27.4 PPG and 7 APG this season, will be more than a handful for the Mavericks. I expect Head Coach Rick Carlisle to throw a variety of guys on him while also forcing him to really have to work on defense when guarding Monta and company. Carlisle, who is arguably a top five coach in this league, definitely has the coaching edge over McHale in this series.
Although the Mavs were just 26-20 this season with Rajon Rondo in the lineup, the playoffs is where Rondo’s star shines the brightest. He’ll most likely have the tough assignment of trying to contain Harden but who knows what all Carlisle has up his sleeve. Rondo isn’t the only Maverick with tons of playoff experience. The Mavs have 619 career playoff games from players on their roster, third most among the 16 playoff teams this season.
Many analysts are actually predicting Dallas to win this series, and I agree. Barring any major injuries, I think Dallas wins this series in six games starting with a game one steal in Houston on Saturday night.
Game 1: Saturday, Dallas at Houston, 8:30 p.m. CT (ESPN)
Game 2: Tuesday, Dallas at Houston, 8:30 p.m. CT
Game 3: Fri. April 24, Houston at Dallas, 6 p.m. CT (ESPN)
Game 4: Sun. April 26, Houston at Dallas, 8:30 p.m. CT
*Game 5: Tue. April 28, Dallas at Houston, TBD
*Game 6: Thu. April 30, Houston at Dallas, TBD
*Game 7: Sat. May 2, Dallas at Houston, TBD