The best way to get over a loss is to win the next game, and fortunately for the Mavs they’re right back at it tonight in Houston, a chance for the team to move past last night’s defeat to the Grizzlies and grab what could be a signature win.

With Dwight Howard’s status iffy, Dallas could be playing against a very good team without one of its best players for the second night in a row. Shorthanded teams occasionally play even better than normal if they’re without an offensive focal point for just one game here and there. It’s only natural for the other guys to rise to the occasion when they get more minutes and, more importantly, more shots. If Howard does indeed miss the game, in line to get extra touches would be Trevor Ariza, Patrick Beverley, Donatas Motiejunas, and potentially Terrence Jones, but the young up-and-coming power forward is also questionable for tonight’s game.

It’s best to have a short-term memory in this league, and the Mavs will put that to the test tonight. Houston is 1.5 games up on Dallas in the West standings heading into this one, so a win would obviously be huge for the Mavericks in more ways than one. Mentally, it would reflect the club’s ability to move on from a tough loss. But in terms of the league, it would move Dallas one game closer to the middle of the playoff pack in the loaded Western Conference.

Mavs Offense Rockets Defense
Points/100 poss. 110.6 (2) 99.6 (4)
eFG% 52.6 (4) 48.5 (T-8)
TOV% 12.5 (2) 17.2 (3)
Off/Def Reb% 24.4 (20) 73.6 (21)
FT/FGA .261 (21) .288 (19)

Chandler Parsons was terrific last night against Memphis, hitting his first four shots and tying Monta Ellis for the team lead with 19 points. He was dynamic, scoring both from the perimeter and inside the lane, and he appeared to penetrate into the middle of the Grizzlies defense with relative ease. He’ll likely be checked by Ariza tonight, a very good perimeter defender. However, Houston could slide James Harden over to defend Parsons and use the long Ariza on Ellis instead. That will be an interesting coaching decision to follow.

Parsons has played well enough in the last few games to demonstrate that he does have the ability to carry the offense for heavy stretches of games. That gives Rick Carlisle the freedom to rely on either Parsons or Ellis, depending on who has the better matchup, if the offense isn’t moving through Rajon Rondo. That’s quite the luxury. Who Ariza defends could very well determine who will get a majority of the touches this evening.

Houston has done a terrific job defending the three-point shot this season, holding opponents to just 31.3 percent beyond the arc, second-best in basketball. The Mavericks shot just 6-of-35 on threes the last time these two teams played, just 17.1 percent. Houston won the game by three points. If Dallas literally would have just made one more shot, the game would have gone to overtime. Dirk Nowitzki and Monta Ellis combined to shoot 11-of-39 from the field in that game, as well, which is likely never going to happen again. A lot of very weird things happened in that game to both teams, so it’s best not to even take what happened earlier this year into consideration. However, it’s safe to say that if the Mavs are going to shoot 35 3s, it’s likely they’ll make more than six this time around.

If Howard doesn’t play, Houston’s defensive configuration will be very strange. He’s the only “true” center listed on the depth chart. Were he to sit out, Motiejunas, Joey Dorsey, and even Josh Smith could all see time at the center spot. All three of those players would have trouble defending Tyson Chandler on rim rolls, but Motiejunas’s floor spacing abilities on the other end would make it a pretty even matchup end-to-end.

Mavs Defense Rockets Offense
Points/100 poss. 103.7 (T-16) 103.6 (14)
eFG% 50.3 (T-19) 51.1 (7)
TOV% 16.6 (4) 17.4 (28)
Off/Def Reb% 71.9 (28) 28.1 (2)
FT/FGA .274 (13) .300 (8)

Everything Houston does starts and ends with Harden, who’s become one of the best players in the league. He leads the league in scoring at 27.6, field goal attempts, free throw attempts, and he’s second in PER. He’s averaging 37.0 points on 54.1/48.6/87.9 shooting splits in Houston’s last four games (three wins) to go along with 7.0 assists and 4.8 boards. He’s playing at an absurd level right now.

His not-so-secret weapon is getting to the free throw line. He’s taken 14.5 free throws per game across the last four contests and makes 9.2 trips to the line per game, tops in the NBA. The Mavs have built a defense around risk-taking and swiping at the ball, but against a player like Harden it’s best to just keep your hands straight in the air and try forcing him into a wild shot, which he usually does anyway. He’s a player who seeks contact, so if a defender is caught with his hands down low or with his feet not set, he’s automatically going to be whistled for a foul. With or without Howard, the Mavs can’t afford to lose Tyson Chandler, Ellis, or Nowitzki to foul trouble.

Jason “JET” Terry has also been playing some big minutes for Houston lately. He’s shooting better than 47 percent from 3 in his last four games, including a four-three, 14-point performance against Golden State one week ago. Fellow 2011 champion teammate Corey Brewer is one of many key reserves on a fairly deep Rockets squad. In 19 appearances with Houston, the former Maverick is scoring 10.2 points per game on 43.4 percent shooting from the field.

Terrence Jones has missed all but the first four games of the season for Houston, but he’s inching closer to a return. Jones is an extremely dynamic player in the stretch-four role. He shot 54.2 percent from the field and 30.7 percent on threes last season for the Rockets, good for 12.1 points and 6.9 boards per game. He was averaging 14.0/7.5 on 52.1/42.9/75.0 shooting before his injury. Reintroducing a player into the rotation is always a strange, awkward process, but a big-time starter making his return could also pump up the crowd and inspire teammates, similar to the way Bradley Beal made his debut against Dallas earlier this season. Whether or not Jones plays, though, Houston can still stretch the floor and several of their players can make plays, similar to the way the Mavs play.

It’s unfortunate that Dallas is on the second leg of a back-to-back for this one, because these two teams are very even on paper and would likely fight tooth-and-nail under more even circumstances. However, the trip from Dallas to Houston isn’t very far, anyway, so the Mavs got a good night’s rest last night. Plus, the players have to be motivated after losing to Memphis last night, so my guess is we’ll see a hungry, aggressive Mavericks team tonight. That’s the way they’ll need to play to beat the Rockets on their own floor, anyway. It should be a good one.

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