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Houston Rockets vs Dallas Mavericks: Preview, Analysis and Predictions

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Houston Rockets vs Dallas Mavericks: Preview, Analysis and Predictions
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Jeremy Lin and the Houston Rockets are fresh off a loss to the San Antonio Spurs and will look to redeem themselves against a struggling Dallas Mavericks squad.

Dallas narrowly passed the Phoenix Suns in their last game, a win that put them just one game below .500, and will look to finish their climb back to such a mark in Houston.

The Rockets, though, winners of five of their last seven, are unlikely to go quietly. They've played playoff-worthy basketball as of late and will be looking to eclipse the .500 mark for the third time this season.

Who will ultimately prevail in this battle of two fringe playoff teams?

Let's take to the drawing board to find out.

 

Time: Saturday, December 8th, 8 p.m. ET

TV: NBA League Pass

Records: Houston Rockets (9-9) vs. Dallas Mavericks (9-10)

Betting Line: Rockets -4

 

Injuries (via CBSSports.com)

Mavericks

Chris Kaman (ankle, questionable); Shawn Marion (groin, questionable); Dirk Nowitzki (knee, out)

 

Rockets

 None

 

Key Storyline: Are the Rockets ready to assert themselves as a Western Conference power?

Are the Rockets a legitimate playoff team?

The Rockets have proven to be one heck of a roller coaster ride, which, while exciting, doesn't bode too well for their playoff hopes.

There are certain nights—like against the Los Angeles Lakers—when Houston looks like a legitimate playoff team. But then there are others when we're left wondering if this team belongs in the postseason hunt at all.

Though there's no denying this team has potential; if the Rockets wish make a playoff push this season, they have to start winning the games they're supposed to.

And this is one of those contests. Houston is at home facing a depleted Mavericks team, and if James Harden and company cannot prove they're capable of taking advantage of favorable matchups, then they'll continue to promote daily ambivalence.

Should the Rockets hold their own and continue their rise above .500, though, there will be some serious cause to remain optimistic in Houston.

 

Key Matchup: O.J. Mayo, SG, Mavericks vs. James Harden, SG, Rockets

Mayo has been an offensive powerhouse for much of this season.

Let the battle of volume scoring shooting guards begin.

This is the first time Harden and Mayo will meet since each took their talents to new digs, and both are playing extremely explosive basketball in the first part of the regular season.

Mayo appears rejuvenated since joining the Mavericks. He has returned to the starting lineup where he feels most comfortable and is averaging 19.8 points on a career-best 47.3 percent shooting from the floor to go along with a 51.8 percent conversion rate from behind the arc.

Like Harden, Mayo can also handle facilitating duties when called upon. He's a great passer and excels on the defensive end as well.

That said, Mayo has scored 13 or less points in four out of the last six games for Dallas. Though he has become far more of a consistent shooter, he has had a tendency to disappear for extended periods of time.

And the Mavericks cannot afford that to happen here, because of, well, Harden.

Harden has enjoyed his status as a franchise cornerstone with the Rockets.

The bearded wonder is tearing up the hardwood in Houston. He's currently fifth in the league in scoring and has kept his once deteriorating field-goal percentage up over 42.

Much like his backcourt counterpart, Harden is a streaky shooter, yet he does score in higher excess and more often than Mayo. He's not as staunch of a defender as him, but he's quick enough to the point where anything Mayo does on offense, Harden himself will cancel out.

Statistics suggest that Harden has the ultimate edge here, but with Mayo's improved accuracy from the field, this one could turn into a shootout if the two remain aggressive enough.

 

X-Factors

Darren Collison, PG, Mavericks

Collison may have lost his starting job, but he's still a deadly scorer.

The fact that Collison now comes off the bench for Dallas should be of major concern for Houston.

Collison provides an altruistic point guard presence and instant offense to the Mavericks' second-unit, two luxuries the Rockets have not yet been afforded.

Though he was ousted from the starting lineup in favor of Derek Fisher, Collison is still averaging 12.3 points and 5.9 assists per game.

If he can have any kind of offensive success against the Rockets' reserves, that ensures, at the very least, that this game remains a back and forth affair for much of the night.

 

Jeremy Lin, PG, Rockets

Rockets need to see more of this from Lin.

Paging Mr. Lin.

If there was ever an opportunity for Lin to shine, it was here.

The struggling point guard will be going up against the aging Fisher, who isn't known for his stout defense or impressive shooting. That should provide Lin with a constant opportunity to attack the paint and avoid becoming a liability on defense.

Consistently attacking on the offensive end is what matters most here for Lin, though. This is one of those matchups where he should be able to torch his counterpart at the rim or compress the help defense, only to kick the ball out to a wide-open Harden, Chandler Parsons or someone else.

Should Lin be able to take advantage of Fisher's age and lack of athleticism, it's hard to imagine the Rockets ultimately falling to the Mavericks in this one.

 

Jae Crowder, SF, Mavericks

Crowder's ability to provide instant offense is invaluable...when he actually does.

Truth be told, Dallas and Houston's starting five match up pretty well, meaning this game could come down to bench performances. This should be good news for the Mavericks, who boast the second-highest scoring bench in the league at 41.9 points per contest.

That said, with Marion's status uncertain for this game, Dallas is going to need Crowder to be ready to assume a starting role at the drop of a dime as well.

Regardless of where he plays, though, the rookie's ability to score in bunches is a potential advantage the Mavericks would cherish.

The problem, however, is that Crowder has remained inconsistent. He doesn't put an abundance of points on the board daily nor is he as aggressive at looking for his shot as he should be.

If the Mavericks wish to snag a road victory here, they're going to need a handful of stellar performances from some of their understated pieces, none more important than Crowder.  

 

Marcus Morris, PF, Rockets

Morris has the potential to be that consistent bench scorer Houston currently lacks.

As I just mentioned, the Mavericks have the second highest-scoring bench in the NBA. The Rockets, though? Their bench scores just 29.2 points a night, the eighth-lowest in the league, meaning someone is going to have to step up.

Enter Morris.

Outside of Carlos Delfino, Morris is the highest scoring bench presence Houston boasts. He can score from anywhere on the floor and is a stout defender as well.

Going up against scorers like Vince Carter and Collison, and potentially Crowder in the second-unit, isn't going to be easy.

If Morris' two-way presence shines like it has on plenty of occasions this season, however, Houston's less-than-potent bench attack won't prove as hurtful to their cause.

 

Depth Charts

Mavericks

Depth chart via ESPN.com.

 

Rockets

Depth chart via ESPN.com.

 

Prediction: Rockets 107, Mavericks 101

Houston is averaging 103.1 points per contest (fifth-most in the league) and is going up against a Dallas team that routinely allows over 100.

That spells bad news—for the Mavericks.

Since the Rockets are allowing over 100 points per game themselves, this one is going to come down to offense. And Houston has the more cogent offensive attack.

Which fringe playoff team will emerge victorious in Houston?

Submit Vote vote to see results

Harden and Mayo should go point-for-point, and Collison will likely tear up Toney Douglas and the Rockets' second-unit. But Lin, Parsons and even Omer Asik should do some serious damage out the gate.

And speaking of Asik, the Mavericks are 19th in rebounds per contest, while the Rockets are sixth. He'll undoubtedly provide a significant edge on the glass, which doesn't bode well for Dallas' already porous defense.

Don't expect this one to be a blowout; the Rockets have played well, but they're not a dominant entity by any means.

However, Harden, Lin and company have finally begun to develop some continuity and will ultimately be able to take advantage of a Mavericks team still searching for a light at the end of a caliginous tunnel.

 

All stats in this article are accurate as of December 7th, 2012.

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