Playoff basketball is full of psychological warfare, but if Chandler Parsons is indeed injured and won’t play in game 2 of the series between the Houston Rockets and the Dallas Mavericks, the Mavs are in big trouble, already down 1-0 to begin with.
The Rockets won 118-108 in the first game as the attempt by the Mavs to focus their limited defensive abilities on stopping James Harden didn’t work so well. This isn’t the Harden from last year who would have gone headstrong and headfirst into the challenge. This is a different player, who is improving (or simply getting more respect from the referees) in getting to the line and making the most of open passing lanes to his teammates.
Harden did lead the Rockets with 24 points, but that allowed Terrence Jones to finish with 19, Corey Brewer to score 15 and Jason Terry, an NBA champion with the Mavericks in 2011, to score 16 points. Parsons, the second player facing a former team in the game, scored just 10 points on 5-of-15 from the field, and not practicing the day before the game and the way he walked on his knee is cause for concern.
A big problem for the Mavericks was Dwight Howard, even if he played just 17 minutes due to foul trouble. He got five blocks and the Rockets were winning by 12 points during his time on the floor. Tyson Chandler has had plenty of problems with good centers over the last three or four seasons, and the Mavericks seem to be pulling short with too many issues to cover defensively.
So how can they flip the script in a series that’s seems to be heading into one, very predictable direction? Defensively, Carlisle is going to need some sort of surprise going for him. He can’t keep sending everything he has and throwing it at Harden. The Rockets have too many good shooters for that to work. Schemes might be something that’s out of the question here.
Monta Ellis has to be better. Without him taking better shots (5-of-16 from the field) and leaving Dirk Nowitzki out there alone to carry the team’s offense, the Mavericks don’t stand a chance. They are inferior in a lot of ways despite having more scorers, but their defensive weaknesses haven’t been solved by bringing back Chandler or trading for Rajon Rondo.
And how does Rondo come into this? Defense, not offense. The Mavericks can score without him, but he might be their only way to generate a fast break rhythm going. The key to guarding Harden is often getting physical with him very early in the play instead of letting him move into the paint and pick his spot. The Mavericks don’t have the perfect player for that, but Carlisle has gotten creative in the past. Putting size and length on Harden might be the only thing that disrupts the Rockets’ victory parade.