James Harden and the Houston Rockets had little trouble eliminating the Dallas Mavericks from the playoffs last season.
The Mavericks are looking for Zaza Pachulia to make a difference in the first meeting since then, while the Rockets seek a sixth straight home win in the series Saturday night.
Houston (4-4) ousted Dallas (5-4) in five games in the opening round of the postseason before eventually falling to Golden State in the Western Conference Finals.
Harden averaged 28.4 points in the series with the Mavs and Dwight Howard had 16.6 and 13.8 rebounds per game.
The duo is off to a terrific start to 2015-16 with Harden second in the NBA at 28.8 points per game, while Howard is putting up 16.7 and pulling down 12.7 boards.
Their efforts, however, weren't enough in Friday's 107-98 loss at Denver. Harden led the way with 28 points, eight rebounds, five assists and three steals, and Howard chipped in with 12 points and 10 boards.
"Just small things we can correct. They are major problems, but not major things that are out of our hands," Harden said.
One area of concern is Houston's 16.3 turnovers per game, which ranks among the most in the NBA. The Rockets had 20 on Friday, committing at least that many for the third time in five games.
Houston, though, has overcome an average of 16.5 turnovers while winning eight of its last 10 meetings with the Mavericks. However, that's been helped greatly by the Rockets' 109.0 points per game in that span.
Dallas is planning to make things tougher in the paint with Pachulia. The center became the Mavs' key offseason acquisition after the club was spurned by DeAndre Jordan, who opted to return to the Los Angeles Clippers despite agreeing to terms with Dallas.
Instead of making the free-agency splash, the Mavs traded a second-round pick to Milwaukee for Pachulia in a move that seems to have been a bargain with Pachulia averaging 10.8 points and 10.2 rebounds after posting 8.3 and 6.8 marks with the Bucks last season.
"He's been just tremendous," coach Rick Carlisle said.
Pachulia led the Mavs with season highs of 18 points and 16 boards in a 90-82 win over the Los Angeles Lakers on Friday. That came two days after he had 10 and 10 while matched up with Jordan in a 118-108 victory over the Clippers.
"My numbers don't count; they don't matter without the win," Pachulia said Friday. "Thank you to my teammates for finding me. Thank you to my teammates for missing some good shots offensively so that I could get some offensive rebounds."
Dirk Nowitzki was one of those teammates who missed a bit, going 4 of 13 from the floor to finish with nine points in his worst offensive showing of the season. The forward is averaging a team-leading 17.8 points with 7.2 boards.
Nowitzki averaged 21.2 points against Houston in the playoffs last spring, but he struggled to show consistency with 16 and 10 in two of the games. He had 22 points and 15 rebounds in Game 5 while making just 8 of 23 from the floor.