PREVIEW: Mavericks at Rockets- Dec. 23

Dec 21, 2022; Minneapolis, Minnesota, USA; Dallas Mavericks guard Luka Doncic (77) reacts towards the fans after the game against the Minnesota Timberwolves at Target Center. Mandatory Credit: Matt Krohn-USA TODAY Sports

PREVIEW: Mavericks at Rockets- Dec. 23

The Rockets will finish their season-long seven-game homestand when Luka Doncic and the Dallas Mavericks visit Toyota Center on Friday night. The Rockets are looking to avoid a fifth straight loss after a third straight second-half collapse on Wednesday, when they couldn’t hold a 15-point second half lead against Orlando.

Eye on the Mavericks

Record: 16-16 (9th in Western Conference)

Offensive rating (rank): 113.8 (9th)

Defensive rating (rank): 112.3 (16th)

Fresh off a surprise appearance in the Western Conference Finals last spring, the Mavs have underwhelmed so far this season despite Luka Doncic playing in all but three games while averaging close to a triple-double. The problem has been when Doncic is not in the floor. The Mavs are scoring 117.6 points per 100 possessions when Doncic plays, but just 104.6 points per 100 possessions when he does not. Former Rocket Christian Wood is averaging 17 points and rebounds per game, mostly coming off the bench, but Jason Kidd has used him in the Mavs’ starting lineup the last three games.

Matchup to watch: K.J. Martin vs Luka Doncic

Doncic didn’t play when the Rockets won in Dallas on November 16, but he will play Friday, and there may not be a tougher matchup in basketball. Doncic is averaging 32.2 points, 8.3 rebounds, and 8.7 assists this season while shooting 49.4% from the field. He is firmly in the MVP mix and a lock to be selected to his fourth straight All-Star game. Eric Gordon remains the Rockets best perimeter defender, and he spent the most time guarding Doncic last season. He’ll miss Friday’s game with a thumb contusion, so K.J. Martin is likely to get the call. From a size standpoint, Martin should be able to stick with Doncic, but Martin does not generally defend players who control the ball as much as Doncic. A big key for the Rockets in this game is making Doncic work at the defensive end of the floor.

What I’m watching for

Dallas only averages three possessions of zone defense per game this season. Still, after watching the Rockets struggle when Orlando flipped to a zone, you’d expect the Mavs to try it out. Rockets’ head coach Stephen Silas held a long film session on Thursday after his team was held to just 20 points in 26 possessions against the Magic’s zone. How does Houston respond if the Mavs employ a zone of their own on Friday?

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