Houston Rockets guard James Harden
Luka Doncic destroyed Zion Williamson in a poll that determined the NBA's top building block.
Mike & Laurel D'Antoni (Dave Rossman Photo)
Luka Doncic is one of the most exciting players in the NBA.
Russell Westbrook is all in on his new life as a Houston Rocket.
Luka Doncic thoroughly enjoyed his NBA All-Star weekend experience.
Russell & Nina Westbrook (Photo by Daniel Ortiz)
Rockets forward P.J. Tucker playing the hoops game.
Call them the imposing underdogs with self destructive possibilities. The Houston Rockets and Dallas Mavericks are two of the most intriguing teams heading into the NBA’s Orlando bubble. Both the Mavericks and Rockets are true wildcards — and even possible dark horse championship contenders in this crazy restart season.
Now with this new coronavirus world NBA schedule revealed Friday night, we know what the Rockets and Mavs’ eight “seeding games” will be. Small ball and Luka Doncic are roaring back in late July — and both will get their fair share of national run. The Rockets are guaranteed at least four national TV games (out of their eight) and the Mavericks will get at least three. The TV schedule for the August 13 and August 14 closing regular season games will be determined later to maximize matchups that matter.
Neither the Rockets or the Mavs are getting Los Angeles Lakers or Zion Williamson level exposure. At least seven of the Lakers’ eight seeding games will be on national TV. And for Zion and the Pelicans, whose push for the playoffs is the NBA restart’s most intriguing overall story, it’s at least five of eight. Still, Houston and Dallas’ NBA teams are getting some national love.
The San Antonio Spurs? Not so much. Gregg Popovich‘s team currently sits outside the playoffs and few are giving the Spurs much chance to change that in Orlando. Consequently, the Spurs have one national TV game. But enough of the also rans.
More importantly, the Rockets and Mavericks’ schedules give them a real chance to improve their playoff positions.
Dallas — which is all but guaranteed to not finish below seventh in the West (only needing one win or one Memphis Grizzles loss to assure that) — gets to play the Phoenix Suns, the Western Conference team in Orlando with the worst record, twice. They also get the sometimes challenged Sacramento Kings and a game against a Milwaukee Bucks team that will have little incentive to play its stars big minutes.
No wonder Donic and the Mavs move up into at least sixth place in more than 50 percent of the predictive schedule simulations.
The Rockets, who only lead the Mavericks by a game and a half for sixth, have it a little tougher with a matchup against those national TV darling Lakers, but they do get to play the Indiana Pacers, one of the lesser teams in the weaker Eastern Conference. The Rockets’ extreme small ball shift will once again put Mike D’Antoni, whose status for next season is in limbo though it shouldn’t be, Russell Westbrook and Co. under the microscope.
It’s a new NBA Disney bubble world — and the Rockets and the Mavericks are among the most compelling storylines. And one of the most important games for both could be their July 31 ESPN opener when they play each other. Luka and the Slow Downs vs. James Harden and Small Ball — one will likely surprise, one will likely implode.
Good luck guessing which.
Houston Rockets Restart Schedule
vs. Dallas Mavericks on Friday, July 31 (8 pm CST, ESPN)
vs. Milwaukee Bucks on Sunday, August 2 (7:30 pm, ABC)
vs. Portland Trail Blazers on Tuesday, August 4 (8 pm, TNT)
vs. Los Angeles Lakers on Thursday, August 6 (8 pm., TNT)
vs. Sacramento Kings on Sunday, August 9 (7 pm)
vs. San Antonio Spurs on Tuesday, August 11 (1 pm, NBA TV)
vs. Indiana Pacers on Wednesday, August 12 (4 pm, NBA TV)
vs. Philadelphia 76ers on Friday, August 14 (TBD, TBD)
Dallas Mavericks Restart Schedule
vs. Houston Rockets on Friday, July 31 (8 pm CST, ESPN)
vs. Phoenix Suns on Sunday, August 2 (8 pm)
vs. Sacramento Kings on Tuesday, August 4 (1:30 pm)
vs. LA Clippers on Thursday, August 6 (5:30 pm, TNT)
vs. Milwaukee Bucks on Saturday, August 8 (7:30 pm, ESPN)
vs. Utah Jazz on Monday, August 10 (2 pm, NBA TV)
vs. Portland Trail Blazers on Tuesday, August 11 (4 pm)
vs. Phoenix Suns on Thursday, August 13 (TBD, TBD)