PREVIEW: Rockets at Mavericks- Dec. 29

Dec 23, 2022; Houston, Texas, USA; Dallas Mavericks guard Luka Doncic (77) dribbles the ball as Houston Rockets forward Jabari Smith Jr. (1) defends during the fourth quarter at Toyota Center. Mandatory Credit: Troy Taormina-USA TODAY Sports

PREVIEW: Rockets at Mavericks- Dec. 29

The Rockets will close out their three-game road trip on Thursday night when they take on the Dallas Mavericks for the second time in a week. The Mavs squeaked out a win at Toyota Center on Friday night behind a 50-point game from Luka Doncic.

Eye on the Mavericks

Record: 19-16 (6th in Western Conference)

Offensive rating (rank): 114.5 (8th)

Defensive rating (rank): 112.7 (14th)

The Mavs enter Thursday’s game winners of four in a row behind a monster stretch from Luka Doncic. The Mavs star is averaging 42 points, 12 rebounds, and 10 assists over the last four games, which include a 50-point game against the Rockets on Friday and a 60-point, 20-rebound game against the Knicks on Tuesday. Dallas is +38 in the 166 minutes Doncic has played during its winning streak, but -13 in the 31 minutes he’s been on the bench. Former Rocket Christian Wood has started the Mavs’ last six games with Maxi Kleber injured, and while he was limited to eight points last week at Toyota Center, he’s scored 49 points over his last two games.

Matchup to watch: Luka Doncic vs Everyone

Everyone got a turn defending Doncic when he lit up the Rockets for 50 points on Friday night. Kevin Porter Jr. was given the initial assignment, but foul trouble kept him from spending a lot of time on Doncic after halftime, so Jabari Smith Jr. was put in the firing line in the later stages of the game. It didn’t matter; Doncic torched everyone who got in his way. Rockets head coach Stephen Silas, who coached him when he was a Dallas assistant, even ran a second defender at the Mavs star, which he admitted is how Doncic wants to be defended. He’s almost impossible to defend, especially when he’s got it going, but at least the Rockets will have Eric Gordon on Thursday. He missed last week’s game due to a left thumb contusion.

What I’m watching for

Can Kevin Porter Jr. build on solid games in Chicago and Boston? Porter led the Rockets’ win over the Bulls with 36 points and nine assists on Monday night, and while he didn’t shoot the ball as well the next night in Boston, he still scored 22 points while dishing out nine assists. Just as important as the 58 points and 18 rebounds in those two games, Porter committed just two turnovers. Everyone knows he can score, everyone knows he can pass, but the ability to run the offense without piling mistakes on top of each other is the next step Porter has to take if he is the Rockets’ long term answer at the point guard position.

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