Dallas Mavericks rookie point guard Dennis Smith Jr. better be ready for the wrath of Chris Paul on Wednesday night. On Tuesday the NBA announced the All-Star reserves. Paul, a nine time All-Star, did not make the cut despite leading the 33-12 Houston Rockets to second in the Western Conference. Paul is averaging roughly 19 points, 9 assists, 6 rebounds, and 2 steals per game while shooting 45% from the field, 39% from three, and 91% from the free-throw line.
Maybe the 17 games he missed due to injury made him not worthy of being a West All-Star reserve, losing out to Damian Lillard, Russell Westbrook, Klay Thompson, Jimmy Butler, Draymond Green, Karl-Anthony Towns, Jimmy Butler, and LaMarcus Aldridge. Regardless, Paul is an All-Star caliber player and is having an All-Star season in his first year with Houston.
The whole Mavs team will have their hands full trying to defend a slighted Chris Paul. It doesn’t help that the Rockets have won 17 straight games when James Harden, Chris Paul, and Clint Capela are on the floor together either. Houston has been red hot the past eight games, winners of the last three and seven of eight.
Dallas has won three of their past eight games, including some brutal losses to the Lakers, Nuggets, and Trail Blazers. The loses were brutal because they were close. The Mavs have played the second most clutch games this season with 31. They just ended their 14 game streak of consecutive clutch games with their drubbing of All-Star guards John Wall and Bradley Beal’s Wizards on Monday, 98-75.
This season Houston holds the series lead 1-0. Dallas lost the third game of the season to Houston, 107-91. Chris Paul did not play in that game. But James Harden sure did. He finished with 29 points, 7 assists, 3 rebounds, and made 6 three pointers for a +31 plus-minus. Reigning sixth man of the year Eric Gordon slid in to the starting line up and filled in nicely for Paul, finishing with 18 points. Clint Capela notched a double-double with 13 points and 10 rebounds.
Dennis Smith Jr. also joined Chris Paul on the sidelines in their first meeting, so this will be the first time he will face the Rockets point guard. The Mavericks did not fare well without their rookie point guard. Their leading scorers were Yogi Ferrell and JJ Barea with 19 a piece. The next highest scorer was Harrison Barnes with 14. The Mavericks never lead that game and were down by double digits from the end of the 1st quarter to the final buzzer.
The Mavericks will have to keep the Rockets off the boards. Houston finished with 11 more rebounds than the Mavs last game. The Rockets rank 14th in the NBA in total rebounds per game and 17th in offensive rebounds. If Dallas does not limit Capela on the offensive boards than it will create more second chance points for the Rockets. Giving up second chance opportunities to a team that ranks 1st in the NBA in percentage of points by three, 41%, can lead the Mavs to find themselves in a deficit too big to overcome.
On defense, look for Rick Carlisle and the Mavs to try and force the Rockets to shoot shots between 5 and 14 feet from the basket. The Rockets only shoot an average of 38% in that area. Taking away the three point line and easy interior baskets will be keys to a victory against Houston. The three point line will get plenty of attention in this game, as Houston attempts 43 three pointers a game. That is the highest in the NBA and roughly 11 more than the Mavs take.
Dennis Smith Jr. is playing at a high level over his last six games. He has really come on with averages of 20 points, 5 assists, and 1.5 steals while shooting 45% from the field and 35% from the three point line. Dallas will need him to continue his dominant play as the Mavericks take on the Rockets at 7:00 PM central time on ESPN.
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