The Rockets added yet another victory to their impressive season on Friday, comfortably disposing of the Nuggets 130-104. Clint Capela was extraordinary, putting up 23 points and 25 rebounds in just 29 minutes of action, while James Harden added 28 points and 11 assists. Their record is now 41-13, placing them in second place in the Western Conference standings and only a game behind the Warriors.
On Sunday they host a Mavericks team sitting in the midst of what are comfortably the four worst teams in the Western Conference. So far this season, Dallas have been woeful on the road. In 27 games outside of Dallas they are just 7-20, and will struggle to turn that around against the red-hot Rockets.
Three keys to the game
Houston’s scoring prowess - The Rockets are edging closer to the Warriors as the most potent offensive team in the league. They now score 113.2 points per 100 possessions over the season, just 0.2 points behind the Warriors. Their offensive rating improves to 116 in the past ten games, and a huge 121.1 in the past five.
Can Dallas take care of the ball? - One area in which Dallas have actually been solid this year is in minimizing turnovers. Their 12.4 turnovers a game is the least in the league, though it could easily be said that this is a product of a low-risk offense which struggles to move the ball. Regardless, it makes it difficult to score off turnovers for the opposition, and Houston is one of the most proficient teams in the league at scoring in this way.
3-point shooting - This game is likely to be a shootout. Dallas takes the fourth most 3-pointers in the league, and hit them at a decent clip, while Houston take comfortably the most and connects on even more. Expect plenty of 3-point attempts in this game, and if one team can find their rhythm significantly more than the other it might just determine the game.
Matchup to watch
James Harden vs Dennis Smith Jr - Harden is widely expected to win his maiden MVP this season, while Smith Jr is having a terrific rookie season. At vastly different stages in their career, Harden would expect to easily have the better of the young Smith, though the Maverick is perfectly capable of putting in big games. For the season, he is averaging 14.8 points, 3.8 rebounds, 4.8 assists and a steal, impressive for a 20 year old in his debut season. Harden has yet again improved his scoring numbers, adding a league-leading 31.4 points on 45.1% shooting this season. He is also contributing nine assists per game, a considerable number considering he shares ball handling duties with one of the greatest point guards of all time.
Houston Rockets predicted starting lineup
PG - Chris Paul | SG - James Harden | SF - Trevor Ariza | PF - Ryan Anderson | C - Clint Capela
Dallas Mavericks predicted starting lineup
PG - J.J Barea | SG - Dennis Smith Jr | SF - Harrison Barnes | PF - Dirk Nowitzki | C - Dwight Powell
In two games against Dallas so far this season, Harden has been instrumental in the Rockets’ victory. He averages 27 points and ten assists in these matchups, and has connected on six 3-pointers in each of the two games. For his career, he averages 21.3 points on 42.7% shooting against the Mavericks, while also contributing 5.5 rebounds, 6.5 assists and 1.4 steals.
Unsurprisingly, Houston are expected to win this comfortably, and have been given a 13.5 point handicap against the Mavericks. It’s always hard to tip a team to win by such a margin in the NBA, but Houston have made a habit this season of grinding teams into the ground, and regularly win by margins well into double figures. Back them to cover this line.
There will be no problems for Houston in winning this one. They have far too many weapons, and Paul and Harden will run wild in the backcourt against the inexperienced Smith Jr and JJ Barea. Capela played arguably the best game of his career in his last outing, adding almost a rebound and a point a minute, and with Dwight Powell at center, Paul and Harden will be looking to get him plenty of easy finishes at the basket.
This game will be over relatively quickly as the Rockets look to chase down the Warriors for the top seed in the west. They’ll run out comfortable winners with a 120-101 victory.
The game will be broadcast locally on ATTSN-SW and FSSW. Tip-off is at 7pm ET.