The 9-9 Dallas Mavericks travel down south to take on the 9-10 Houston Rockets in their first match up of the year. Houston has been struggling this season due to injuries to Chris Paul and James Harden early on. They also lost defensive anchors Luc Mbah Moute and Trevor Ariza in the off-season which explains their early defensive struggles.
Dallas started the season 2-7 but have since gone 7-2 to right the course. In that time, they got a 50-point win against Utah, beat the Celtics with a healthy Kyrie (Gordon Hayward did not play), and won against the Warriors and the Thunder, who are both playoff teams. Here are a few things to keep your eyes on tonight.
DeAndre Jordan vs Clint Capela
Dallas’ big free agent acquisition DeAndre Jordan has been a welcome sight to Mavs fans this year, sort of. Jordan has filled the hole at center and helped the Mavs go from the bottom of the league in rebounding to middle of the pack. He has racked up 12 double-doubles so far this season. Simply put, he has been good, but not great. The reason he hasn’t been exactly what Mavs fans hoped he would be is because he hasn’t been the defensive force he once was. Jordan frequently gets lost in the pick-and-roll on defense, which leads to easy buckets for the opponent.
Clint Capela plays a similar game to Jordan, which should work in Jordan’s favor tonight. Instead of worrying about defending the pick-and-roll/pop against a stretch four or five, Jordan gets to defend a primarily roll-only guy. The last time Jordan played somebody as similar to him was Rudy Gobert, who only had 10 points and 11 rebounds in a 50-point blow out loss. If he and his teammates can put up the same collective effort against Capela, then Dallas has a great chance to come out of Houston with a win.
Luka Dončić “Flu” Game?
Luka Dončić missed practice on Tuesday but made it on the team plane to go to Houston. He is listed on the injury report as questionable with a day-to-day illness. It probably isn’t the flu, but if he plays he has a chance to join NBA folklore as players who have come out sick and still dominated. Of course, everyone knows Michael Jordan had the original “flu” game by dropping 38 points on the Utah Jazz in a playoff win.
The Mavericks also have their own version of the flu game courtesy of Dirk Nowitzki. Dirk came into the 2011 NBA finals Game 4 with a 102 degree fever and the Mavericks facing a 3-1 hole if they lost. He battled through his illness and scored 10 fourth quarter points to help the Mavericks to a win that proved as the turning point for their championship run. The magnitude of the game isn’t like Jordan’s or Nowitzki’s, but it would be awesome for the rookie to etch his name in Mavs and NBA folklore with a solid “flu” game against what many considered as a championship contender to start the season.
Both Dončić and Dennis Smith Jr. are listed as questionable, game-time decisions tonight. If they can not go, the Mavs would be down their two-primary ball handlers. The guard depth would be thin and Dallas will rely on JJ Barea, Devin Harris, and Jalen Brunson to run the show. Most teams not having their two playmakers on the court would be a death sentence, but Dallas still has a lot of life left with their veteran guards.
Barea started the season slow but has since dominated while running the second-unit next to a healthy Devin Harris. He has been a positive in plus-minus for seven of his last eight games. He is also averaging roughly six assists this season, with three double-digit assist games so far. Barea also gets minutes with the starters and seems to be Coach Carlisle’s most trusted guard off the bench and has been for some time, so if the young guys can’t go tonight, we will be seeing lots of JJ.
The Dallas Mavericks take on the Houston Rockets tonight at 7:00 PM central time on Fox Sports Southwest.