Rockets, Grizzlies make noise in Southwest

By Jonathan Von Tobel  ( senior NBA analyst) 

After a fantastic week in the NBA, at the center of my observations will be the Southwest Division. Dallas was the preseason favorite to win the division, but the Mavericks have fallen on hard times. As the Mavs flounder, their competition in the Southwest seemingly cannot lose, as Houston and Memphis were on insane hot streaks.


Is Dallas in danger of losing this division after closing as the odds-on favorite to win it in the offseason? Let’s discuss.


Dallas Mavericks


To say the season has gone sideways for Dallas is an understatement. After losing to Phoenix at the buzzer Monday night, the Mavericks are stuck in an 0-6 SU and ATS slide. Over this stretch Dallas is last in net rating (-10.8) and 29th in defensive efficiency (119.9). While the defensive efficiency is a massive problem, this is a team that finished last season 18th in defense (111.2). It is not out of this world that this team would have a problem defensively. To struggle to this level is horrendous, but the issues on offense have been the biggest problem.


Dallas offset its defense last year with an offense that set the single-season record for offensive efficiency, averaging 115.9 points every 100 possessions. It was predicated on 3-point shooting. The Mavericks took the second-most 3-point attempts per game (41.3) and shot 36.7% as a team. This season Dallas is dead last in 3-point shooting (32.8%), and as a result the Mavs are taking nearly six fewer 3-pointers per game this season. Luka Doncic is still shooting under 30% from deep, and his overall efficiency has dipped to 1.135 points per shot attempt (49th percentile at his position).


The defense undoubtedly needs to improve. But if this offense does not turn the corner, the door is open for either of the next two teams to steal this division.


Houston Rockets


Houston has been a breath of fresh air to watch. The Rockets play a quality brand of basketball, starting with a defense that is fourth in the league (107.9), according to Cleaning The Glass. That defense has been the driving force behind a 6-0 SU and ATS run in which they lead the league in net rating (+ 15.1). They have been dominant the way they protect the rim, giving up just 59.3% within 4 feet while allowing just 35.9% to opposing shooters. However, the most impressive aspect of this defense has been in the half-court, where Houston allows a league-best 89.6 points every 100 plays.


But the offense could hold back the Rockets from a long-term run of success. Yes, they hit 28 3-pointers Monday against Oklahoma City, but they still rank 21st in offensive efficiency (109.6) and 14th in 3-point shooting (37.0%). Houston’s depth is not great, and it shows when John Wall and Christian Wood rest, as the Rockets have a -3.0 net rating in those possessions. I love watching this team, but it has some limitations, which leaves us with one more candidate.


Memphis Grizzlies


Two teams were on 6-0 SU and ATS runs as of Tuesday. One was Houston, and the other was Memphis. Houston was first in net rating over that stretch, and Memphis was second (+ 12.7). Before falling Tuesday night to Indiana, the Grizzlies’ winning streak was built around a defense second only to the Rockets in efficiency (103.2). What is intriguing about Memphis is its offense — and its future.


The Grizzlies averaged 115.8 points every 100 possessions during their win streak, the fifth-best rating in the league and just edging Houston in that category. And Memphis is a team we know will get better. Justise Winslow has yet to play a second in a Grizzlies uniform, and Jaren Jackson Jr. is on the way back from an offseason knee procedure. If Dallas does not clean up its act soon, we could see the Grizzlies at the top of the Southwest.

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