The Rockets head just a couple hundred miles north to Dallas tonight, where they’ll take on the rival Mavericks at the American Airlines Center in a battle of talented Texas teams.

 
Although this is an in-state, locally grown grudge match between franchises that have made no secret about hating each other, this is a game that could hold significant meaning for both squads regardless of that fact.
 

Overview

 
The Rockets are locked in a rugby scrum of teams near the top of the Western Conference — they’re currently tied with the Grizzlies for the two seed, while the Clippers (1.5 games back) and Spurs (2 games back) threaten to leapfrog them from behind if they stumble — so every game is a significant one for them from here on out.  This one is of course no exception.
 
For the Mavs, meanwhile, this game might not mean much to them in terms of the standings, as they appear to be locked into the seventh seed with little hope or fear of shuffling in either direction. 
 

 
However, since the Rockets are currently tied for the second seed and appear likely to finish there with the way they’re playing, this game could very well wind up being a first-round playoff preview.  Dallas will be looking to send a message to that regard, especially on their home floor.
 

Recent Past

 
Both teams are coming off hard-fought wins last night, so neither should have any advantage in freshness.  Houston got a career-high 51 points from James Harden to fend off the inferior Kings at home, 115-111
 

 
The Rockets were without Dwight Howard, a fact for which Boogie Cousins made them pay by exploding for 24/21/10 and 6 blocks, but Harden was still able to strap them on his back and drag them to the win.  This is starting to become a trend for Harden and the Rockets, who are a glossy 8-2 over their last ten contests.  They appear to be peaking at the right time.
 
The Mavericks were in Oklahoma City Wednesday night, where they outlasted the Thunder by a score of 135-131 in a barn-burner to burn all barn-burners. 

Dallas put a ridiculous seven players in double-figures in the game — nearly eight, as Devin Harris finished with 9 points — led by Monta Ellis with 26 and Chandler Parsons with 22.  Russell Wesbrook had a triple-double in the game (what else is new?) at 31/11/11, but he shot just 10-for-32 from the field and turned the ball over six times, so it could be argued the Mavs did a fairly good job on him defensively.
 
The victory continues a stretch of wild inconsistency for Dallas.  They’ve now gone 5-5 over their last ten games, and are just 14-12 over their last two months of play.  They seem to alternate between un-guardable and unwatchable on a weekly basis.
 

Prediction

 
Despite the Mavs being at home and likely wanting to send a message, I’m going with the Rockets in this one.  James Harden is just too good right now — his wizardry has reached new heights. 
 
He seems to be making his final case for the MVP award before the season closes out, and considering the way he’s playing, it’s a pretty tough case to argue with at this point.  Not only that, but the Rockets expect to have Dwight Howard back tonight after he sat for the past two games to rest his troublesome knee.
 
Between the heroics of Harden and the brute-strength of Dwight, the Mavs are going to have their hands full trying to send their fans home happy in this one.  I see the Rockets taking it in yet another barn-burner for these two teams (do they play any other kind of game?), by a final score of 120-112. 
 
Harden will continue his MVP-lobbying and finish with 32/6/6.  Daryl Morey shall rejoice, and tweet; Mark Cuban shall smash his head through a $2 billion dollar painting, and tweet back.

No matter how it goes down, I can promise you this: it’s gonna be a lot of fun.  Tune in.
 
[Photo: NBA.com]

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