The Dallas Mavericks met the Houston Rockets four times during the regular season, but were only 1-3 in those games.
The stakes are much higher when the best-of-seven, first-round NBA playoff series begins Saturday night in Houston.
One difference is that each of the regular-season meetings came as the second half of back-to-back games.
That type of scheduling doesn’t happen in the playoffs. That’s a good thing because the Rockets present challenges on both ends of the floor. They have the league’s sixth-ranked defense and the league’s second-leading scorer, MVP candidate James Harden.
“They are going to be a tough opponent,” Mavericks center Tyson Chandler said. “Harden, Dwight Howard, their aggression and the pressure that Harden puts on you defensively.
“Harden may be the MVP. If not, probably will be the runner-up. We have a tough task ahead of us.”
Five storylines to watch in the all-Texas series opener:
1 Hack a Howard
Look for the Mavericks to foul center Dwight Howard and forward Josh Smith often and disturb the Rockets’ offensive execution. Howard is shooting 52.8 percent from the free-throw line and Smith is shooting 52.1 percent in his 51 games with Houston.
2 No MVP chants
As is his custom, Harden will be ferociously attacking the basket on a frequent basis. Harden attempted more free throws (824) than anyone in the NBA this season, and shot a robust 86.8 percent from the line. His uncanny ability to get to the line puts immense pressure on the defense.
3 Parsons watch
Chandler Parsons went through a full workout Friday morning and said he is going to play against Houston on Saturday barring any setbacks. Parsons missed the final six games of the regular season while dealing with swelling and soreness in his injured right knee.
4 Center of attention
The matchup in the middle between Chandler and Howard could turn into an epic encounter. Both players are tall, lean and mean and play with the type of passion that can energize a team. Chandler can hit the outside jumper, but Howard does nearly all of his damage inside.
5 Home court a nonfactor?
The last time the Mavericks met the Rockets in the playoffs was in 2005. Houston won the first two games of the series in Dallas, then the Mavericks won the next two games in Houston. The home team won the last three games, with the Mavericks blowing out the Rockets 116-76 in Game 7.
Dwain Price, 817-390-7760