In the throes of January and February, the cold "dog days" of the NBA regular season, we hear about teams routinely resting star players for the "long haul" and the "greater good," but when you play in the NBA's Western Conference, we were reminded this season that every game matters.
Every game was the difference between the six seed and the two seed, and as the third seeded Clippers were finishing their mopping of the floor with the sixth seeded Spurs on Sunday night (R.I.P. Aron Baynes, by the way), we got another reminder as to why we all rooted for the Rockets against the Jazz last Wednesday in Regular Season Game 82 like it was a playoff game, and why we stuck around to watch the waning moments of that Pelicans-Spurs game on the big screen.
The first reminder, though, came Saturday night. Rockets 118, Mavericks 108. This is why getting the two seed was so important. Because the Mavericks are ill equipped to deal with the Houston Rockets.
Completely, utterly, totally, ill equipped.
As you iron your Ed Hardy shirt and pay for your $200 haircut today, Mavericks fan, allow me to point out the following:
1. Dwight Howard played seventeen minutes on Saturday night in Game 1. SEVENTEEN. Seventeen minutes whose rhythm and flow was completely and constantly interrupted by choppy, overly sensitive officiating. Still, even in those short bursts of playing time, Dwight managed to pile up 11 points, 5 rebounds, and 5 blocked shots. It doesn't take Daryl Morey to extrapolate what Dwight would probably do over his forecasted allotment of 30-plus minutes. Destroy you, you, and you. (And I'm pointing at you, Tyson Chandler, Amare Stoudemire, and Rick Carlisle.)
2. James Harden shot 4-11 from the field and hit just one three point field goal, about as poor a shooting night as one can expect from the should-be MVP of the league. And yet he found other ways to kill you, Dallas. Not knocking down shots? Fine, he'll just go to the line 17 times. Not knocking down shots? Oh, here's 11 assists for the rest of his teammates. In the Western Conference, there are three "nuclear weapon" players in the playoffs, players who single handedly keep the figurative floor of their teams at a "competing for NBA Finals berth" level by merely being on the floor. Steph Curry, James Harden, and Chris Paul. Dallas, you brought a Rajon Rondo to a gun fight. Bad move.
3. Oh, and Dallas, could your bench be any more decrepit? Amare Stoudemire is fine to bring off your bench if he's like your ninth guy, giving you the occasional elbow jumper that he can knock down. Who in the blue hell is letting him shoot it 12 times in 16 minutes? I think I speak for all of Houston when I say, please do that again, Rick Carlisle. PLEASE keep doing that thing where you let your third man down the bench jack up nearly a shot per minute trying to find his rhythm. Also, too bad you wasted J.J. Barea's one good game of the calendar year. The next time he goes 6 for 9 in a game, we will be verbally masturbating about the trailer release for Episode EIGHT of Star Wars. (Oddly enough, Mark Cuban's hair color will be EXACTLY the same.)
4. And this whole bench thing, Dallas, where your bench is basically a bunch of old dudes and Al-Farouq Aminu, is a microcosm of the bigger issue that plagues your team, and that is that it's an ill conceived mess. It's the "Chimney Rock exit off of 59 South" of NBA teams. (Houstonians know what I'm talking about.) You went out and traded for ball dominating Rajon Rondo to pair him with ball dominating Monta Ellis. The only way you keep both of these guys happy is if somehow you're able to shatter the continuum of mathematics and allow them both to have the ball in their hands for 75 percent of the time. That adds up to 150 percent (insert "sad trombone" sound here). Also, it was very noble of Dirk Nowitzki to take a pay cut to $8 million per year so that he could be surrounded by better players. I'm not sure how he feels that you spent the money he left on the table on the third best player from a Rockets team that got booted in six games in the first round of the NBA playoffs. I like Chandler Parsons just fine...at like $8 million per year.
So of all the things I've listed above that could change over Games 2 through whatever of this series, I would say that Dwight Howard will play more than 17 minutes in every game going forward, and James Harden will probably shoot the ball better than 4-11. He may not get to the line 17 times again, but he will find other ways to hurt the Mavericks. This is the evolution he's undergone this season. James Harden is the love child of a chameleon and a Swiss Army knife.
Meanwhile, Dallas, your team will continue to be old, turnover prone, and not all that deep. This is who you are. A seven seed that is completely and utterly screwed.