There are three leading MVP candidates thus far in the NBA season, and two of them—the Mavericks’ Luka Doncic and the Rockets’ James Harden—will be featured in this game. (The third, Giannis Antetokounmpo, will be at home in Milwaukee, presumably watching.) Harden is leading the league with 38.3 points, with Doncic fourth (29.9 points). Doncic is second in assists (9.7 per game), while Harden is seventh (7.8). The two are both near the top of the league in free-throw attempts (Harden first, Doncic third), which should mean an excessive number of stoppages of play and former players complaining on Twitter about how the game is called these days.
The Rockets have lost two straight but enter this game as home favorites, the consensus line running at 5.5 points with an over/under of 232. It will be a clash of betting trends, Houston having gone 5-1 ATS in its last six games and 4-0 ATS at home. The Mavs, though, are 8-2-1 in their last 11 road games and 4-0 ATS in their last four. They’ve won four straight, including their last two games by a combined 90 points.
Mavericks vs. Rockets Preview
The game should come down not so much to the battle of MVP candidates, but how the supporting casts of these two teams play. That starts with the No. 2 options on both teams, neither of which has had a smooth season thus far.
Houston’s Russell Westbrook has averaged 21.9 points but has done so in remarkably inefficient fashion, even by his standards. Westbrook is shooting 19.4 field-goal attempts per game and making only 22.0 percent of his 3-point attempts. Among players who have attempted 4.0 3-pointers per game, that’s the worst percentage in the league (not counting gimpy Blake Griffin, whom we’re giving a break since he’s only been back for four games). In his last five games, Westbrook is shooting 33.3 percent from the field.
Dallas big man Kristaps Porzingis has had his struggles, too, especially in his last six games going back to a 1-for-11 disaster in Boston. He’s averaged 15.5 points in that span, shooting 37.8 percent from the field, but a respectable 34.3 percent from the 3-point line.
The Rockets have an advantage in the middle with Clint Capela over Dwight Powell, but Dallas has a slightly better supporting cast—which is not saying much, because neither team is especially deep. But if Doncic can play Harden to a draw, Porzingis outplays Westbrook and the rest of the casts are mostly even, the Mavs can keep this close enough to cover.
These are two of the three best offensive teams in the league (Dallas is No. 1 at 116.9 points per 100 possessions and Houston is third at 111.7.) and each is mediocre defensively. The O/U is high, though, at 232, inflated a bit because of the way Dallas pummeled the lowly Warriors and Cavaliers. There should be a bit more defense played here, so the under looks good.
Mavericks vs. Rockets Pick & Prediction
PICK: Mavericks, +5.5
SCORE PREDICTION: Rockets 112, Mavericks 109