Mavs-Rockets have huge showdown

by 24USATVMarch 31, 2024, 10:01 a.m. 24

HOUSTON – Arguably one of the biggest regular season games ever between the Dallas Mavericks and Houston Rockets will occur Sunday at 6 p.m. when the two I-45 rivals collide at the Toyota Center.

The red-hot Rockets are the hottest team in the NBA with 11 wins in their past 11 games. The Mavs are the second-hottest team in the NBA with wins in 10 of their past 11 games.

In fact, the Mavs’ lone loss during the current surge occurred on the second night of a back-to-back at Oklahoma City, 126-119, on March 14 in a game superstar point guard Luka Dončić missed with a sore left hamstring. Had Dončić played in that game, a strong case could be made that it’s possible two 11-0 Texas teams would be streaking into the Toyota Center on Sunday.

Ask Sacramento Kings coach Mike Brown about the difficulties of trying to defeat the Mavs, and he all but shrugs his shoulders while trying to come up with some concrete answers.

Last Tuesday in Sacramento, the Mavs totally demolished the Kings, 132-96. And this past Friday in Sacramento, the Kings built a 15-point lead only to see it completely evaporate during a 107-103 loss to the Mavs.

“It’s going to be hard to beat that team,” Brown said. “That team is really good. They’re one of the best teams in the West.”

The Mavs are 44-29 and in sixth place in the Western Conference. But they’re only half-a-game behind the fifth-place New Orleans Pelicans (45-29).

Meanwhile, the Rockets (38-35) are in 11th place in the West, and stand just one game behind the Golden State Warriors (39-34) for the final play-in spot out West. Thus, Sunday’s game is crucial on multiple levels.

Brown walked away from his team’s two meetings with Dallas last week extremely impressed with the Mavs.

“Dallas is such a veteran team,” he said. “Their guys are very, very, very smart. They’ve got a good feel for the game.”

Brown said he was hellbent on not letting Kyrie Irving and Dončić beat his team on Friday, then Dante Exum rose up and drained a pivotal three-pointer down the stretch that broke the Kings’ back.

“They allow the double team to happen, or they allow the switch to happen, and they attack right away,” Brown said, referring to the Mavs. “So, now you’ve got to come help, but they get off the ball so well, as soon as a double team comes, boom, they’re getting off the ball. That guy either snap drives it, shoots it, or he swings it to the next open guy.

“You’ve got two Hall of Famers shooting over 50% from the field, and you’ve got to get the ball out their hands, and at the end of the day you hope that somebody misses. And they move the ball like two, three, four passes after we got it out of their hands.”

In essence, that blueprint that bode well for the Mavs in two games against the Kings last week may be rolled out again against the Rockets. Especially if the Rock ets decide to use the same defensive strategy the Kings utilized.

*This is the fourth game of a season-long five-game road trip for the Mavs. The trip concludes with Tuesday’s game in San Francisco against the Golden State Warriors before the Mavs return home to host the Atlanta Hawks on Thursday.

*After Sunday’s game against the Mavs, the Rockets play in Minnesota on Tuesday before coming back to Houston for a pivotal showdown against the Warriors on Thursday.

*Luka Dončić is questionable for Sunday’s game with right knee soreness, while Josh Green is out with a right ankle sprain. Roc kets promising center Alperen Sengun is out with a right ankle sprain.

*Back on Nov. 28 in Dallas, the Mavs defeated the Rockets, 121-115, behind 41 points, nine rebounds and nine assists from Luka Dončić. Fueled by Derrick Jones Jr. (15), Dante Exum (12) and Tim Hardaway Jr. (11), the Mavs’ bench outscored the Rockets’ reserves in that game, 40-30. The Rockets led that game, 88-84, entering the fourth quarter, but were outscored by the Mavs, 37-27, over the game’s final 12 minutes.

*On Dec. 22 in Houston, the Rockets led the Mavs, 56-39, at halftime and went on to prevail, 122-96, in a game Luka Dončić (strained left quad), Kyrie Irving (right heel contusion) and Dante Exum (left lower leg contusion) missed. Alperen Sengun (22 points, 15 rebounds), Jabari Smith Jr. (21 points, eight rebounds) and Jalen Green (17 points, six boards) paved the way for the Rockets in a game the Mavs missed 33-of-40 shots from three-point range and also were out-rebounded, 63-47.

*The Mavs are the NBA leader in clutch winning percentage at 72.4 percent followed by the Los Angeles Lakers (71 percent) and Denver Nuggets (67.6 percent). The Mavs are also an NBA-best 21-8 in clutch games – games that are within five points in the game’s final five minutes.

*With nine games remaining, the Rockets have a chance to win more games this season than they won in the past two seasons combined. The Rockets are curre ntly 38-25 after going 22-60 last season and 20-62 in 2021-22. The Rockets are in the playoff picture for the first time since they finished the 2019-20 season with a 44-28 record. That’s when they beat Oklahoma City in seven games in the first round of the playoffs, then lost to the eventual NBA champion Los Angeles Lakers in five games in the bubble in the Western Conference semifinals when James Harden, Russell Westbrook, P.J. Tucker and Eric Gordon were playing for the Rockets.

*In his last 10 games Luka Dončić has averaged 29.4 ppg, 9.7 rpg, 10.2 apg and 1.7 spg, while the Mavs are a perfect 10-0 in those games. With that backdrop, Dončić has moved into the thick of the league’s Most Valuable Player race.

*Dating back to the 1981-’82 season Rockets forward Amen Thompson joins Elton Brand, Dikembe Mutombo and Hakeem Olajuwon as the only rookies who have picked up at least six offensive rebounds in at least four straight games. Thompson is averaging 17.1 ppg (58.9% FGs), 10.6 rpg and 1.3 spg in 31.2 mpg over the past eight games.


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