The Houston Rockets enter the NBA playoffs as a dark horse to win the title as they are led by shooting guard and MVP candidate James Harden.
They will take on the Dallas Mavericks in the first round of the playoffs, who they beat in three of their four matches this season.
They were without center Dwight Howard for the first three of these games, and they won their first two as Howard helped lead them to victory over the Mavericks in an April game.
Harden averaged 27.4 points, 5.7 rebounds and 7.0 assists per game as Howard has put a knee injury behind him and will be around to take some pressure off of Harden.
Howard scored 15.8 points per game this season while averaging 10.5 rebounds. This does not match up with Howard’s career averages, but he will provide a second scoring option and a defensive force to match with the likes of Dirk Nowitzki.
He will also be able to neutralize scoring threats such as Mavericks shooting guard Monta Ellis.
The Rockets also have solid secondary scoring options in Trevor Ariza, Jason Terry and Terrence Jones. Forward Josh Smith can contribute off the bench as a rebounder and shot blocker.
Meanwhile, the Mavericks also have a solid plethora of scoring option in Nowitzki, Ellis and Chandler Parsons. However, Parsons will have to prove that his sore right knee is not an issue.
Point guard Rajon Rondo has not panned out as the Mavericks had hoped since they acquired him in a midseason trade, and the Boston Celtics appear to have easily won the trade after a scorching finish that pushed them into the playoffs.
The Mavericks limped into the playoffs after winning only 16 of their last 30 games, and they do not have a superstar who can match up with Harden.
To make matters worse, their defense is not strong enough to stop the likes of Harden and Howard.
Although they have a strong rebounder and defender in Tyson Chandler, he cannot carry the load all by himself as the Mavericks look to stop the high-octane Rockets offense.
Chandler also can’t carry the load all by himself in the rebounding department, which the Mavericks have also struggled in this season.
Meanwhile, Howard continues to be a lock for double digits while Harden has improved his rebounding skills that have enabled him to boost his numbers and become an MVP candidate.
The fact the Mavericks rank 25th in the NBA with 102.9 points allowed per game can’t possibly offer any reassurance to Mavericks fans either, considering who they are facing.
While the Mavericks are not reliable on defense, they rank third in the NBA with 105.2 points per game. They also have some talented bench contributors such as Amar’e Stoudemire and Raymond Felton.
This is why the Mavericks will be able to give the Rockets a fight in this series, but it will not likely be enough to upset them.
They will definitely not be able to win Game 1 as the Rockets will come out with guns blazing in front of their home crowd.
Look for this game to be an easy win for the Rockets.
Prediction: Rockets 107, Mavericks 94