Mavs at Rockets Preview: Luka vs. Harden in This '2-Star League'
Some say the NBA is now a "two-star (per team) league.'' Maybe the Dallas Mavericks personify that. Definitely the Houston Rockets do.
Dallas is at Houston in a 2:30 p.m, matinee today, the 10-5 Mavs coming off a 4-0 homestand featuring consecutive 40-plus-point wins, the 11-5 Rockets coming home to Toyota Center after a pair of road losses.
Houston's fixes, though, are simple ones, and based on proven talents in James Harden and Russell Westbrook.
“They’re amazing players,” said Dallas' Luka Doncic. “We have to take care defensively on them. It’s hard to stop them. We have to do a great job on both of them.”
Houston will need to do the same on Luka, of course, who pairs with Kristaps Porzingis to give Dallas its entry in this "two-star league.'' But Luka isn't Harden, not yet. And KP isn't as established as Westbrook. The promise is there, though, and today offers the Mavs a chance to establish that they really have made the jump to the Rockets' level.
"It was a successful homestand," Mavs coach Rick Carlisle said. "We've done some good things. But the schedule is going to get a lot more difficult now."
The difficulty begins with how to guard Harden, who is averaging 38 points per despite opponent double-teams. His sidekick Westbrook is almost as lethal, averaging 22 points, 7.7 rebounds and seven assists. Doncic is a statistical matchup for anybody, as he's averaging 29.9 points, 10.4 rebounds and 9.7 assists, last season's Rookie of the Year entering MVP conversations this season.
Can Luka count on help today from KP, who for all the talk about his "struggles'' is averaging 18 points and nine rebounds per? Maybe his best chance at doing so is on the defense end, as Carlisle noted, "I really love the way he plays both ends ... Defensively, he's a great pick-and-roll defender, he's a presence at the rim, he's a great rebounder and great outlet passer. Those are parts of his game that get overlooked because of his ability to score."
Carlisle has lineup and rotation decisions to make today as well. Eleven different Mavs have started games. Tim Hardaway Jr. is the latest guy to pop up on the radar in that regard. But Seth Curry (illness) is now listed as "probable'' for today. And decisions will have to be made about how much to try to outscore Houston vs. how much to focus, personnel-wise, on defending them. Dallas' two stars have their hands full today ... and against Harden and Westbrook are going to need lots of help from Dallas' "non-stars.''