For the Houston Rockets and Dallas Mavericks, game four of their Western Conference playoff series today means two very different things. For the Rockets, it is win and advance but for the Mavericks, it is win or go home (9pm ET, Sunday).
When the series between the second seeded Rockets and seventh seeded Mavericks began, it seemed there was a chance this could be a pretty even match. After all, most of the Western Conference teams were separated by just a handful of games and all of them had been competitive and skilled the entire season.
But quickly into game one, it was clear that while the Mavericks are a typically well organized West roster, the Rockets are in fact something more. James Harden (pictured) is something more and with Dwight Howard back, the team’s offense is something more. Seven Rockets, both Harden, Howard and the remaining three starters included, finished in double figures in scoring. The team also combined for 44 rebounds and an impressive 26 assists on 38 made field goals.
The Rockets actually shot pretty poorly in game one, under 45%, but the Mavericks did as well. The biggest difference was the free throws of which Houston attempted 45 and made 32 while Dallas only had 17 attempts, making all but three. The Mavericks’ percentage was higher but given how frequently Dallas, a team that has all year gotten to the line, Dallas really had no chance when the game was close in the end.
Game two followed a similar pattern with both Howard and Harden contributing over 20 points each and two additional bench players adding 15 apiece. Harden, who made all 13 of his free throw attempts, was, as he has been all year, the catalyst for this offense. The Mavericks, who lost this game by 12 points, were almost perfect from the free throw line, making 27 of 28. From the floor was a different story though as the team shot just a tick over 37%.
Dallas managed to keep it close in game three and even had chances to win both in regulation and in overtime. The game finished with a score of 130-128, one of the highest scoring playoff games in some time. Dallas outshot Houston (52% to 51% for the Rockets), outassisted (27-23) and outshot from the free throw line (27 to 21) but it wasn’t enough to make up for Harden’s career playoff high 42 and the double digit scoring of five of his teammates.
So what did we learn from these three games? Well, for starters, it all comes down to Harden. The 25-year-old player is a bona fide star and has been ever since he joined Houston’s roster. He carried the team during Howard’s injury and is well deserving of the MVP accolades that very well could be coming his way. Not just with scoring over 27 points a game, but with seven points and almost six rebounds per contest as well as a 86 shooting percentage from the charity stripe, Harden is the definition of a complete player. As long as he continues to get his teammates involved and continues to shoot near perfect from the line in the playoffs this year, there isn’t much reason to believe the Rockets won’t win. In fact, I’d go as far as to say that as long as Harden is on, the Rockets are going to be a tough ask for any of the remaining Western conference teams.
For the Mavericks to win though, which they can, they have to be the best offensive team. And that’s really their strength. Defensively, the Mavs have been that team this year who can give up 100 points to an opponent and still win. To their credit, that is exactly what they did all season long. The Mavericks averaged over105 PPG while holding their opponents to 102. The 105 was third in the NBA.
Everyone knew for Dallas to beat Houston they had to continue to fight the offensive war of attrition. So far this series, Dallas has lost and without its offense coming out on top, there’s no way this team will manage a victory, even being that they are at home.
Houston Rockets at Dallas Mavericks Prediction & Pick
The Rockets continue to be favored and rightfully so. Something just isn’t clicking with that Dallas offense right now and when you don’t have it, you just don’t have it. Unfortunately for the Mavericks, it seems like it’s too late for everything to just come into place. Even if the Mavs do manage to win game four, it won’t mean much. The series belongs to the Rockets.