With the NBA season approaching, it is time to talk less about the coronavirus and more about teams chances for advancing in the playoffs.
A couple of teams are in similar situations.
The Dallas Mavericks and Houston Rockets are separated by a game and a half in the standings, each have two legitimate stars, and they are rivals.
Let’s take a look at each team’s chances.
Record: 40-24, sixth in Western Conference, first in Southwest Division
Vegas odds to make finals: 7-1
Odds to win it all: 13-1
Houston has already clinched a playoff spot. It’s just a matter of how high they can get in this eight-game dash to finish the regular season.
And that all depends on how their small-ball strategy plays out.
With James Harden and Russell Westbrook running the show, the Rockets’ chances look good.
Westbrook improved his offensive play in the games leading up to the break in March. He scored more and with better shooting percentage. Coincidentally, those were also the games after the team went all in on small ball by trading big man Clint Capela.
Harden’s only flaw has been that he tends to wear down late in the playoffs. With the abbreviated post-break schedule this year, that should not be a problem.
3-Point Shooting and Defense
As a small team, Houston’s long-range shooting will have to improve. The Rockets lead the league in three-point attempts (44.3 per game), but rank 23rd in percentage from the arc (34.8).
The third option in the lineup, Eric Gordon will be a key to the Rockets’ chances here. He shoots eight a game, but only at a 32 percent clip. His recovery from knee surgery in November likely has had effect. The layoff may be a help.
Going small may also have a bearing on the Rockets defense. The Rockets’ defensive rating slumped when they gave up the big guys – from 109 in their first 50 games, to 111 in their last 14.
Record: 40-27, seventh in West, second in Southwest
Odds to make finals: 20-1
Odds to win it all: 40-1
The fact that they haven’t clinched yet doesn’t help the Mavericks chances.
But I think this a good team, good enough to make a breakthrough in Orlando.
The Mavs big stars are of course Luka Doncic and Kristaps Porzingis.
The 7-3 Porzingis is the big man the Rockets don’t have. He’s not just a presence underneath, but a true contributor all over the floor.
Porzingis averages 19 ppg on the season, but was scoring upwards of 25 regularly before the season pause.
He’s reportedly been working hard over the break, and if he can pick up where he left off, the Mavs have a scary weapon.
Look for Luka to be better, too. He averages 28 a game, but missed time in February with an ankle injury and was hampered with a wrist injury along the way. The break will have helped him, too.
The third man in the Dallas formula is Tim Hardaway, Jr. Scoring around 15 a game, Hardaway hits 40 percent of his 3s, and that will be important if he is free to shoot more.
This team shoots the second most three pointers in the league (41.7 per game), so that long-range shooting will be vital to the Mavericks chances.
Shooting Will be Key
It is clear that shooting accuracy will be crucial to our two teams, as it will to any teams chances in Orlando. No one has a home-court advantage, there will be no fans, and the arenas are compact. It will take some adjustment.
The “bubble” routine alone will take some adjustment. I really don’t expect a great brand of basketball, at least to start.
But which of our two teams’ chances are better?
Going by experience, you would have to say the Rockets chances of going deep are better. They have been in the playoffs the past seven seasons and at the doorstep of the finals.
How the playoffs set up will mean a lot, too; neither team wants to face the Lakers or Clippers in the first round. The Rockets are 2-3 vs. the Lakers and Clippers this year, and the Mavs are 2-5.
The Rockets stand a better chance of moving up in the standings and matching up with the Denver Nuggets or Utah Jazz. Houston is 4-3 against those two.
But even if the Mavs make a good enough push to make the playoffs, the team’s chances of being a 7-8 seed are more likely. Then they would have to score a major upset to advance.
Unless the Mavs finish the eight-game dash undefeated, I have to go with the Rockets chances to advance deeper.