This particular battle for Texas reaches its fourth and final round on March 6, when the Houston Rockets complete a home-and-home in taking on the Dallas Mavericks at the American Airlines Center. Houston took the first half of this particular series, winning handily at the Toyota Center on March 3.
There is more to this game than just sweeping a home-and-home, however. A Rockets victory means splitting the season series and a third-straight win for the team. This is highly important because though the Rockets are the No. 7 team in the Western Conference, the Los Angeles Lakers are making good on their late-season charge and currently stand just two games behind the Utah Jazz for the No. 8 spot.
Similarly, Dallas would love to play spoiler to any and all teams going forward, and the fact that this game is on the Mavs' home court will only add to the adrenaline.
Throw in the state rivalry aspect, and you've got yourself a game.
Time: Wednesday, March 6, 8:30 p.m. ET
TV: CSN Houston, Fox Sports Southwest
Records: Houston Rockets (33-28) vs. Dallas Mavericks (26-33)
Betting Line: Not available as of Tuesday, March 5, 9:22 a.m. ET
Injuries: Jared Cunningham (knee, out), Anthony Morrow (hip, day-to-day), O.J. Mayo (hand, day-to-day), via ESPN
Key Storyline: Can Houston Salvage Season Series Split?
There's no doubt that in the second half of the season, the Rockets have looked like a different team. The defense has still been hit or miss, but it's safe to say that the entire squad has bought into head coach Kevin McHale's run-and-gun system and enjoys playing in it.
In that game, Houston shot an astounding 57.5 percent from the field, led by 32 points from Chandler Parsons and a combined 42 points and 16 assists from James Harden and Jeremy Lin. The team's offense was in full swing, and that will need to be the case in Dallas to close out the season series.
A win there means splitting the season series with the Mavericks, but Houston has gone just 13-19 away from the Toyota Center, while Dallas is 16-12 at home.
This means that full communication is needed on the Rockets' end with no possessions taken off and defense being played as well as it possibly can be. Dallas is a team that also likes to run, and this game is just a matter of who can run faster.
In Houston's case, being that team could be critical to maintaining pace in the race for the playoffs.
Key Matchup: Shawn Marion vs. Chandler Parsons
With each game, Chandler Parsons keeps getting better and better for the Houston Rockets. The second-year forward out of Florida is averaging 15.1 points and 5.5 rebounds per game this season and is also shooting 48 percent from the field and 38 percent from three-point range.
Over his last five games, however, Parsons has put up borderline-MVP numbers, at least on shooting percentages alone. Through that stretch, he is averaging 21.4 points and shooting an astounding 63 percent from the field and 56 percent from beyond the arc.
The Rockets are going to need his hot streak to continue in Dallas, especially with the team's notable road woes, but that means getting past an experienced opponent and pest in Shawn Marion.
At age 34, Marion is not the explosive scorer he was with the Phoenix Suns in the prime of his career. However, his on-ball defense is still among the best in the league.
Moreover, he is still managing to put up 11.5 points and eight boards a game, and there's every possibility that he can take young Parsons to school now that the scene has shifted to his home court.
On Parsons' end, this means fighting past the defense and driving the lane more than he uses his jumper. He has done a good job of mixing up his offense this season, but it is critical that he do so in this game.
Otherwise, Houston's offense becomes a bit more predictable, and Dallas' chances of winning grow.
X-Factor: Donatas Motiejunas
Motiejunas' season averages do not look like much, as he has split most of this year between the end of Houston's bench and the D-League. For the season, he has posted just 4.4 points and 1.5 rebounds over 8.1 minutes per game.
However, now that Patrick Patterson has been traded, Motiejunas has done a fine job stepping into the starting power forward's role. Over his last five games, he has averaged 11.6 points and five rebounds while shooting 58 percent from the floor and 40 percent from long range.
This is because Motiejunas is a special type of player. He has a big man's size at 7'0", 222 pounds, but the versatility of his game is quite notable. Not only can he play the low post well, but his ability to stretch the floor makes him an even tougher guard.
He'll need to do a fine job of mixing up his game against Dallas, who will likely have the veteran Dirk Nowitzki guarding him. Both players have similar skillsets, so it will be interesting to see who has the better night.
If Motiejunas can give himself just the slightest of edges, then Houston's chances of winning grow.
Predicted Starting Lineups:
PG: Jeremy Lin
SG: James Harden
SF: Chandler Parsons
PF: Donatas Motiejunas
C: Omer Asik
PG: Darren Collison
SG: O.J. Mayo
SF: Shawn Marion
PF: Dirk Nowitzki
C: Chris Kaman
Even though they have struggled on the road mightily this season and a rowdy Dallas crowd will not make this game easy, the Rockets will come away with the victory. Dallas' offensive attack is just too weak to keep up with that of Houston's current scorers.
Chandler Parsons will have another excellent scoring night, driving past Shawn Marion's tough defense and also sinking some key threes late in the game. In the backcourt, Jeremy Lin and James Harden will both have fine nights once again.
Moreover, Donatas Motiejunas will go toe-to-toe with Dirk Nowtizki, and while he may not have the prettiest of nights, he'll do everything he has to do to swing the pendulum in Houston's favor.
The Rockets will thus salvage a season series split and extend their winning streak to three games, while the Mavericks continue to prepare for the draft lottery.
Houston Rockets 110, Dallas Mavericks 100
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