The Dallas Mavericks and Houston Rockets tip off a little under 24 hours from now, and what better to get your hearts pumping then to take in a nice “Texas Sized” round table discussion with all of your friends at Mavs Fanatic. This has been building into a rivalry between Interstate 45 franchises for a couple years now, and the gas that has been poured down that 240 mile trek should get officially lit come Saturday night in Houston. With that being said, let’s dive right in!
1. Series X-Factor
Ryan Wilson: With the huge question mark surrounding the status of Mavericks forward Chandler Parsons, the x-factor of this series has to be Al-Farouq Aminu. When this guy is on his “A” game, he is a pleasure to watch. His hustle and determination will be heavily required in this series, especially if Parsons is limited or out of action. You could see him matching up with multiple guys throughout this series, especially James Harden. They don’t need him to hit any outside shots, but a bonus one every now and then won’t hurt any. Where he will be needed is on the defensive end and the fast break game. If Aminu comes out aggressive and fighting on both ends, he could prove to be a huge reason the Mavericks could come out of this series and advance.
Damian Jackson: The Mavericks signed Al-Farouq Aminu this summer to be an energy player who would hopefully excel on the defensive end. Dallas got that and more as Aminu gradually rose his way up the rotation, going from DNP-CD to first or second man off the bench. In four games against Houston this year, Aminu averaged nine points, seven rebounds and three blocks in 26 minutes.
While Aminu usually subs in at power forward for Dirk Nowitzki, I would expect him to defend James Harden at times when Rajon Rondo is out of the game. Aminu’s defensive versatility provides Dallas with player who blocks shots, guards the perimeter and post and also has a knack for steals. If Aminu can find the range on those corner triples and find lanes in the open court for easy buckets, well, the offense would simply be gravy.
Michael Lark: Does ‘Playoff Rondo’ actually exist? Will he step up and lead this team? The Mavs will only go as far as Rondo takes them. He has the opportunity to step up and show the late-December trade for all the intangibles he brings to the table was actually worth it. He has everything to prove too. He’ll be a free agent this summer and is reportedly seeking a max deal. Now is his time to prove it.
Reece Waddell: In all honesty, this series has multiple X-Factors, but for the sake of time I’ll say its Rajon Rondo’s ability to guard James Harden. I’ve said it time and time again, the Mavericks pulled the trigger on the Rondo trade for his defensive ability. He has been known to really turn it up in the playoffs, and for Dallas to win the series, Rondo must be effective in at least limiting Harden’s chances.
Terence Huie: Aminu has been undoubtedly my favorite player on the Mavericks this season. Every time his name is called, he brings 100% on the floor. I’d like to see, if it’s possible without foul trouble, Rick Carlisle use Aminu to guard James Harden. Especially with the uncertainty of Chandler Parsons, this could definitely be the time for Aminu to step up and contribute off the bench.
Greg Higgins: Chandler Parsons. The Mavericks match up well with the Houston Rockets and every Mavs fan out there wanted this matchup over any other. However, that all goes out the window if Parsons isn’t healthy and a non-factor. Say what you want about his struggles earlier in the year, he really started getting it together in the last couple of months of the season and the Mavs need him in order to have a shot at this series.
Michael Page: Officiating. While officiating should never be at the forefront of any series, it has to be discussed when dealing with James Harden. Rajon Rondo will likely be given the defensive assignment of guarding him, and if the officials are going to give Harden all the whistles, it could be a long series for Dallas.
2. Mavs Biggest Focus
Wilson: Rebounding. We could all sit here and say that James Harden should be the main focus of the series, but that’s already the obvious. The Mavericks HAVE to REBOUND the basketball in this series. Giving a team that shoots so many three-pointers second chances will be the death of the Mavericks. Tyson Chandler will do his part, but they need some of the other bigs, like Nowitzki, Aminu, Stoudemire and Parsons to really get going cleaning up the glass.
Jackson: Guarding James Harden and rebounding. It’s no secret that Harden is one of the best in our league. Whether you love him or hate him (and his ludicrous FTA this season), he’s the likely MVP runner up for a reason. Harden averaged 9.3 FTA against the Mavericks in four games this year, about one less than his season average of 10.2 FTA. Dallas will certainly focus its defensive efforts on flustering Harden and attempting to play smart defense to keep him off the line.
Even with Dwight Howard playing only 18 minutes in one game against Dallas this season, the Rockets were +7 in rebounding over the season series. Not too bad, considering the Mavs ranked 23rd in the NBA. Tyson Chandler, Aminu and Rondo will do their crashing the glass, but expect Dirk to elevate his rebounding numbers as well. Last year Nowitzki increased his boards from 6.2 RPG during the season to 8.0 RPG in seven games against the San Antonio Spurs.
Lark: James Harden. You can’t stop him, you can only contain him. At 27.4 points on 18.1 attempts per game, Harden will ensure he gets his no matter what. The Mavs will utizlie a heavy dose of defensive stopper Al Farouq-Aminu on Harden, but make no mistake, he does not “fear the beard.” If anything, Aminu only fears that his aggressive style of defense will result in multiple trips to the line for a guy in Harden that led the league in trips to the line during the regular season at 10.2 per contest.
Waddell: Dallas’ biggest focus has to be defense. Houston is an offensive juggernaut and can score almost at will. Tyson Chandler has to play like he did in the regular season finale and defend the rim. Rondo must lock down Harden on the perimeter and the bench must produce on a consistent basis. If Dallas wants to get in a shootout, I’m afraid they might not be able to keep up.
Terence: I have two. One huge focus should be if this team can stay healthy throughout the playoffs. That’s been a huge concern through the whole regular season. It’s great to have a team full of veterans, but on the contrary, players get injured more frequently. If the Mavs want to win this series, every player has to avoid injuries.
The second focus should be the fast break game. One of the best things I enjoyed about this offense is scoring in transition. The Mavs finished fifth-best in the league in fastbreak points this year. For a team that has the highest age average in the NBA (29.5 years), that’s really surprising. With Houston averaging 15 turnovers a game (third-highest in the NBA), Dallas should take advantage of winning four games through transition offense.
Greg: Defend the 3. Dallas gave up the second most three pointers in the history of the NBA this year and Houston led the league in made three-pointers. That’s not a great combination for the Mavericks. They must stop the three-pointer to be effective.
Michael Page: Getting Chandler Parsons healthy. For the Mavs offensive engine to run at its highest level, there is no doubt they need Chandler Parsons. His versatility as a ball handler at 6’9 is something the Mavs have missed in his time out. They will need a healthy Chandler Parsons to have a chance in this series.
3. Rondo’s Impact
Ryan: This is what we brought him in here for right? After years of playing with MFFL emotions everywhere, the Mavericks pulled off the blockbuster trade for Rondo. Sure, it hasn’t been everything it was cracked up to be, but are there many other point guards you would trust come playoff time? If the Rondo of playoff past can show up, all signs point to positive impact from here on out. Rondo needs to play “his game” and not try to overdo anything. Find the open shooters, play that lock down defense he is known for, and be the floor general he has been his entire career.
Damian: The Rondo impact in this series needs to be felt. This is why Mark Cuban and company pulled the trigger on the early season trade. Rondo a unique individual, personality and player, has seen ups and downs already in his short stay in Big D. While his personal statistics took a hit, he’s improved the team in an area much needed – defense.
His own defense on James Harden this series will be a key matchup. For what Rondo lacks in height and size against Harden, he makes up with his lengthy wingspan and experience guarding bigger players such as LeBron James. Rondo doesn’t back down from challenge, especially in the postseason.
Michael Lark: Unknown. Since acquiring Rondo, the Mavs new starting point guard has only had a handful of games that could be deemed great. His play has been consistent and his role going forward has been called into question. However, if he is able to limit his mistakes and play efficiently on the offensive end of the floor, while being matched up against a depleted Rockets’ backcourt, he has the opportunity to capitalize with a great series.
Terence: Rajon Rondo’s impact in this series is to be a floor general. He knows he has four other guys on the floor with him that can score the basketball. It’s that simple.
Reece: Rondo’s impact on this series will be whatever he wants it to be. We all know he’s a premier player and he’s been there before, winning a title in Boston, but he’s inconsistent. Rondo needs to be able to facilitate the offense through Dirk and Monta, contributing where he has opportunities. There’s no question his effort will be important, but if he brings his A-game, Dallas has a good chance.
Greg: BIG. Rondo’s playoff numbers are better than his regular season numbers and that’s great. His defense gets better in the playoffs and they will need that with Harden on the other side. However, I think he brings something else to the table. He’s a champion. Just like Dirk, Tyson, and Barea he knows how to win and what it takes. On that Boston team that won the title, he was the best player in the playoffs and that was on a team that had some hall-of-fame talent.
Michael Page: Rajon Rondo has the toughest task of all: guard MVP candidate James Harden for a 7 game series. He is a skilled flop artist, so guarding him is no easy task. Will the Rondo that has guarded LeBron and others twice his size in the past show up? The Mavericks will certainly need everything he’s got to slow Harden down.
4. Series Prediction
Ryan: I watched the final night of the regular season in awe. Playoff seeds could’ve resulted in multiple different match-ups, and in my opinion, it worked out quite well for the Mavericks. Look, they have (in my opinion) the MVP of the league in Harden. They have (when healthy) one of the better centers in basketball in Howard. However, they lost Patrick Beverly and Donatas Motiejunas for the season, and those are two pieces that were big contributors for the Rockets. I think the Mavericks are going to play their best basketball of the season, because in all honesty, the playoffs are a different animal, and I think this team can play with the passion that the playoffs require. I see the Mavericks stealing one of the first two games in Houston, turning the advantage towards the Mavericks moving forward. Mavericks in 6.
Damian: One of the most evenly matched series of the first round, I expect this to go at least six games but ultimately the distance. Dallas has won Game 7 on the road before, have the more experienced and polished head coach in Rick Carlisle to deliver the win or go home victory in Houston. Mavericks in 7.
Michael Lark: 6 or 7 games. Who takes it, is anybody’s guess at this point. If Chandler Parsons can play anywhere close to the level he’s been at during the regular season that will obviously bode well for the Mavericks’ chances. If Dwight Howard is healthy, he poses a huge problem for the Mavs on defense and on the glass where the Mavs 23rd in the league. These two teams match up so well, it will likely come down to the Corey Brewer’s and the Charlie Villanueva’s of the world to tip the scales one way or another.
Terence: “WE WANT HOUSTON” has been the phrase said by man MFFLs leading up to the playoffs. The Rockets are easily the best matchup for the Mavs to avoid a first round exit this year. Mavericks in 6.
Reece: This is obviously biased, but I’m a glutton for punishment, and too often I ignore my father’s advice of “bet with your head, not your heart.” Sorry, Dad. I’m going to hope that Chandler Parsons is at least 80% by Game 1 and slowly improves as the series progresses. If Parsons gets healthy, Rondo does his job, and the Mavs get their usual production from Dirk & Co., I like the Mavericks in 6 games.
Greg: As much as I love this matchup and I love the Mavericks chances, I just can’t get past the fact that Houston shoots the three-ball so well and the Mavs defend it so poorly. But, hey what do I know, I predicted Spurs in 5 last year. Rockets in 7.
Michael Page: Ultimately, I think Houston’s formula of shooting 35 3’s per game has proven to fail in the playoffs. The Mavs veteran players will be too much for the Rockets, and Rajon Rondo finds a way to shut down James Harden. Mavericks in 6.
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