The Houston Rockets are feeling pretty good about themselves right about now. They're sitting second in the Western Conference and have reeled off three straight wins.
And, of course, a certain Rocket made headlines recently after a win over the Golden State Warriors.
But before they can focus on catching the defending champs, Houston can't afford to let up against perceived lesser foes. The Southwest Division-leading Rockets (33-12) travel upstate for Wednesday night's matchup against lottery-bound Dallas (16-31) at American Airlines Center.
"I just like to win by any means necessary," Chris Paul said. "You never know what each game is going to call for."
Even after getting by Miami 99-90 at home Monday, NBA leading scorer James Harden was still alluding to Saturday's 116-108 win over Golden State. After that game, Rockets center Clint Capela proclaimed that Houston is better than the Warriors.
"We're growing definitely," Harden said after scoring 28 against the Heat. "It feels good, especially off a win Saturday night to not have a letup is a good sign."
The Rockets returned to full strength against Miami, with Trevor Ariza and Gerald Green back after serving two-game suspensions. Houston is also 18-0 this season with Capela, Harden and Paul in the lineup.
The Mavericks, currently last in the Southwest, are coming off Monday's 98-75 home trashing of Washington. Harrison Barnes posted his team-high eighth double-double with 20 points and 10 rebounds, both totals tying for game-high honors.
The win snapped a three-game losing streak, a stretch that included poor starts and poor defense.
"We take it game by game," Barnes said. "Our biggest things are good starts in the first quarter and good starts in the third. If we do both of those things, we usually put ourselves in good position, so that is our focus more importantly."
Mavericks point guard Dennis Smith Jr. produced 17 points and a game-high six assists against the Wizards. Smith is averaging 20.2 points, 3.7 rebounds, 4.8 assists and 1.5 steals per game over his last six games.
Dallas coach Rick Carlisle also voiced his support for Smith participating in the Dunk Contest during All-Star Weekend, adding that if the rookie isn't invited "somebody's probably not doing their job very well." Smith was invited Tuesday, according to reports.
Washington's points (75) and field-goal percentage (30.6) were both season lows for a Dallas opponent.
"I thought the defense certainly looks good on paper, but there were an awful lot of missed shots," Carlisle said. "They had a lot of looks where we weren't in the best possible position, but they had an off shooting night."
The Rockets have owned the series against their North Texas neighbors in recent years. Houston has won five straight, including a 107-91 victory in October at the Toyota Center, and 11 of the last 14 regular-season meetings. Harden has averaged 27.0 points and 10.2 assists during the five-game winning streak over Dallas.
The Mavs have won 21 of the last 30 showdowns in Dallas, but the Rockets have taken four of the last five at American Airlines Center.