Rockets win series, 4-1
Everything seems to be going right for the Houston Rockets, as they finished off the rival Dallas Mavericks in a 5-game, “Gentleman’s Sweep” last night. Houston’s bench depth and midseason acquisitions (Josh Smith, Corey Brewer, Pablo Prigioni) were viewed as key difference makers for them to advance. Not only did all three of them play huge roles in Houston’s offensive blitz, Coach Kevin McHale may have stumbled upon a new connection in the process: Smith to Dwight Howard.
We know, Chris Webber, that the two of them grew up together in Georgia and were AAU teammates way back when. Their on-court chemistry is as strong as ever, with Smith constantly finding Howard for easy lobs and buckets down low throughout the series. Sure, Dallas’s interior defense is not what it once was but Smith’s playmaking ability is opening up more avenues for James Harden, Howard, Trevor Ariza and Terrence Jones. Harden, in particular, continues to impress (1 of 2 players in Rockets history to avg. 25 ppg in the playoffs; other is Tracy McGrady).
Without a true point guard in the lineup, Harden has taken on the challenge of upping his productivity, even further, as a set-up man and facilitator in the offense (avg. 7.8 apg, 2nd in the postseason behind John Wall). Howard’s resurgence (postseason-leading 13.8 rpg; 18 pts and 19 rebs in the Game 5 clincher), along with Harden’s dominance, makes Houston much scarier heading into Round 2. D12 looks as spry and motivated as his years in Orlando. He constantly terrorized Tyson Chandler in the middle and shut down the driving lanes for Dallas to attack.
The Mavs look to add depth to the roster in the offseason. They could not recover from the absences of Chandler Parsons (knee) and Rajon Rondo (“back”; AWOL) to make this one close. Rondo never seemed interested to be a part of Dallas’s regime from the moment he arrived in town. In Dirk Nowitzki’s waning years, Mark Cuban and the higher-ups have to search diligently for a floor general to pair with their franchise superstar.
Josh Smith’s playmaking was huge in Game 2. He poured in 15 points, 8 boards and 9 assists and helped propel the Rox to a 30-point fourth quarter that sealed the deal. Once McHale gave his talented forward more freedom to create, Houston did not look back.
Houston gets a nice break before facing either the Los Angeles Clippers or San Antonio Spurs in the Semifinals. They seem to matchup better with LA but home-court advantage through Round 2 could be an enormous boost for them to advance to the WCF.
Dallas desperately needs to find a point guard, wing defender, and solidify a subpar second unit. Al-Farouq Aminu, JJ Barea, Tyson Chandler, Monta Ellis, Raymond Felton, Richard Jefferson, Rondo, Greg Smith, Amar’e Stoudemire, and Charlie Villanueva all are, or can be, free agents.
The priority is to find younger, more athletic options who are committed to playing defense (DAL gave up 114.2 ppg in their 5-game defeat).