DALLAS – It’d be easy to hype up the matchup of the big man the Mavericks offered a max deal against the center they settled for at a fraction of the price.
“It’s not as tough to guard him,” Dalembert said. “It’s just that as a big, when you have a pick-and-roll and there’s guys like Harden who penetrate so good with the ball, your focus is first on the penetration. So when you roll down, always a small is going to pick him up. That’s when the problem comes down. One-on-one guarding him is not as tough.
“The post-up game is not really something you see. I don’t see them throw the ball on the post for him to go one-on-one. It’s just wall down in the middle of the paint and throw the ball high to him. That’s pretty hard to stop, especially when you have a small on the back end trying to grab you and defend you. It’s pretty easy. You just foul him and send him to the free throw line.”
The payoff of playing for Houston coach Kevin McHale, one of the best back-to-the-basket players in NBA history, hasn’t happened yet for Howard.
According to ESPN Stats and Information, Howard is averaging only 5.5 points per game on post-up plays this season, slightly less than he averaged last season in Los Angeles and a steep drop from the double digits he averaged on post-ups in Orlando. He’s also averaging only 0.59 points per post-up play, the fourth-worst rate among the 39 players with at least 30 post-up opportunities this season.
Howard’s presence isn’t the primary reason the Rockets rank second in the league in scoring offense with 108.8 points per game. In fact, Howard ranks third among the Rockets in scoring, behind James Harden and Jeremy Lin and just ahead of Chandler Parsons. The Mavs’ defensive game plan begins with trying to limit the damage by Harden and Lin with dribble penetration.
“That’s a tough thing when you have that,” said Dalembert, who will also have his hands full keeping the league's leading rebounder off the offensive glass. “As we work on the defensive scheme, I’m just going to have to limit the penetration from Harden and at the same time run back fast enough to get to Dwight. It’s going to be a long night for me.”
The Mavs hope it isn’t a short night for Dalembert. They’re in trouble if he gets in early foul trouble, which is what happened during Mavs’ loss in Houston earlier this month.
Dalembert picked up a foul just more than a minute into that game and was limited to 22 passive minutes. He finished with as many fouls (five) as rebounds.
“The biggest challenge is use of fouls,” coach Rick Carlisle said. “We’ve got to be prudent with our use of fouls. The first play of the game last time we played these guys, Sam got a very cheap foul just because as a team we weren’t as ready to play as we should have been on that possession.
“We can’t have wasted fouls, particularly by Sam and DeJuan [Blair] and our big guys. They’re valuable when you’re playing against a guy like Howard. That’s a big part of it. Then if other guys break us down, which is going to happen over the course of the game, he’s got to be there as a rim protector and other people have to slide down and help him and block out Howard. That’s a tough job.”