Rockets Must Take Advantage Of Favorable First Round Opponent
The Houston Rockets head into the first round of the NBA playoffs as favorites to win their match-up vs the Dallas Mavericks. The Rockets won the season series 3-1, and in three of those games Dwight Howard did not pay. The Mavericks come into town tonight as 6 point underdogs.
There is a big spotlight on both James Harden and Dwight Howard to perform well and at the absolute bare minimum advance to the second round. The pairing should translate into playoff success at some kind of level. If the Rockets manage to lose to the Mavericks not only a disaster but an embarrassing disaster.
It isn’t even just the Houston vs Dallas city rivalry, there have been jabs thrown between Mavs owner Mark Cuban and Daryl Morey for the past 2 years or so. Also not to leave out that Chandler Parsons is a Maverick.
Just this week for a piece with Grantland’s Kirk Goldsberry, Mark Cuban said that there isn’t a more predictable team than the Rockets. He also said that the Rockets are a very talented team, and believes that James Harden is the MVP, but only because the Rockets aren’t very good.
I was actually surprised that Cuban at least gave Harden the nod for MVP since he is pretty much discounting the Rockets as a team. But for a smart man I’m confused as to how he said the the Rockets are very talented but that the 2nd seed Rockets aren’t good.
The Mavericks on the other hand started out the season as a very good team but became a just barely above average team once they made the Rondo trade. The Mavericks exchanged to underrated pieces of their bench in Jae Crowder and Brandon Wright for Rondo. Monte Ellis is a talented scorer but he tailed off a little in the second half of the season.
Dirk Nowitzki can still play at a high level for stretches but he is past his prime and he can’t put the team on his back anymore. The Mavericks were hoping that Chandler Parsons could turn into a go-to player but they are learning that that isn’t quite the kind of player that he is. The Mavericks wanted Parsons to become a star who will take over for Dirk, but we knew here in Houston that Parsons is a comfortably below that margin.
Monte Ellis is Mavericks best offensive player and perhaps their best player. He can go on a hot streak at any moment, but since Rondo has joined the team Ellis doesn’t handle the ball nearly as much as he did early in the year.
Throughout the season the Mavericks proved to be a weaker team in rebounding category so Rockets should be able to dominate the board throughout this series with Dwight putting a body on T. Chandler.
The Mavericks also don’t have an answer for James Harden. Richard Jefferson can’t, Monte Ellis has no chance of containing Harden, and Parsons wouldn’t be able to keep up with Harden either. Rajon Rondo could see significant time on Harden if all else fails.
Yesterday every show on Sports Radio 610 talked for few minutes with a show from a Dallas radio station and it never ceases to amaze me how arrogant even the radio hosts are up there. Perhaps I’m a bit too biased but I don’t think that is the case. Radio hosts in Dallas always seem ready to take their shots Houston or the team of topic, and in most cases are the first to take that blow.
They are almost clones of each other because they all sound and act the same exact way, and tend to be not very rational. Of the eight or so hosts that 610 talked to from Dallas all but one picked the Mavericks to win the series, and they were confident and arrogant about it.
I suppose you can’t really blame the Mavericks for thinking they have a chance of winning the series but the Rockets are simply a better team, a more talented team, and have a lot to lose if they fail in the first round.
Personally I don’t see how the Rockets couldn’t win this series in 5 games, and it shouldn’t take more than game 6. The Rockets have a top 3 player in the league right now and they have a more impactful pieces than the Mavericks
James Harden is having an MVP season, and he is such a better player in every way that I wouldn’t expect his playoff struggles to continue. I think by himself he would be able to will the Rockets to a first round victory over the Mavericks, but he should have enough help around him in this series.
Dwight Howard should be able to have some success against the Mavericks front court. Tyson Chandler isn’t the same defender that he used to be, and neither is Amare Stoudamire. Dwight looked to be rounding into shape at the end of the season and it was evident in the last game of the season against the Jazz and Rudy Gobert who is a great young defensive center.
Dwight should be able to do a lot of damage in this series if he can play clean minutes. Charles Barkley harps a little bit too much on Dwight but he is exactly right about how Dwight picks up a lot of necessary fouls. With Dwight off the court the Rockets become a very small team and it can significantly affect their ability to rebound. He also must stay healthy for the Rockets to go deep into the playoffs.
It might be safe to say that none of the young players on the team will see many minutes in the playoffs. Kevin McHale has always been reluctant to play rookies and inexperienced players until he has no choice other than to play them due to injury like with Clint Capela late in the year.
In Terrence Jones’ rookie season he was an effective player but spent most of his time in the D-League and only played in 19 regular season games. So Capela, N. Johnson, and especially K.J. McDaniels might not see any action unless there are key injuries to others.
With Patrick Beverly out, McHale is relying heavily Jason Terry and Pablo Prigioni to play a lot of minutes and be able to hit open shots. This is worrisome because both players a 37 and Terry has already played much more than he anticipated playing in the regular season.
In these playoffs the Rockets will have to do good job of playing team defense to help out defending opposing point guards. I’m impressed with how things suddenly started clicking for Pablo Prigioni with about 2 or so weeks left in the season.
For a while after he got here he was largely ineffective in all aspects of the game. McHale had him out there because he is a seasoned player and he will take care of the ball. But towards the end he got into the flow of things and started making plays in the pick and roll. He also all of a sudden started getting like one sneaky steal or swipe a game while guarding on defense which was refreshing to see.
They will have to defend Mavericks’ point guards Rajon Rondo, Devin Harris, and J.J. Barea. It is no easy task but it isn’t Curry, Lillard, or Paul level of point guard yet. Barea is a good, quick little back up point guard who often has good games against the Rockets. He is very quick and is good at penetrating the defense and surprising hits a lot of layups that leave you wondering how he made it with all the towers around him. Barea is more of a spark offensive player off the bench for the Mavericks compared to Devin Harris who is more of a facilitator but also has a little bit of an offensive game.
Rajon Rondo was supposed to be a key acquisition for the Mavericks but he hasn’t played the part that they hoped he would. However, I’m unsure of what were are going to see out of Rondo in this series. Rondo has played in a lot of huge playoff games and at times was the best player on the court for his team.
I’m curious to see whether Rondo will turn it up another level for the playoffs or will he continue to be an odd fit for the Mavericks. Another thing about Rondo is that he is supposed to be a very poor jump shooter, however in the two games as a Maverick he was hitting his jumpers and was a combined 10-15 shooting.
The Rockets have almost all the pieces that are needed on successful playoff teams. As long as the Rockets hit their threes, free throws, and play solid defense they be able to win with at least 6 games.