Image from @Dallasmavs twitter
On Monday, The Dallas Mavericks played the Houston Rockets on the second night of a back-to-back as they continue their road trip. The Mavericks are coming off a disappointing loss in which they struggled rebounding the ball and allowed way too many second chance points. The Mavericks have a tough challenge ahead of them with the always dangerous, James Harden. The Mavericks have gotten off to a disappointing start to their season as they are 2-4 through six games, hoping to start a winning streak soon as they inch closer to getting Kristaps Porzingis back to the lineup. The Mavericks are suffering massively on the defensive end by averaging 41.5 rebounds, ranking 27th in the NBA to this point. The Mavericks have to be able to fix their rebounding woes if they want to grab a top seed in the Western Conference. This would be the first time that Maverick fans would be able to go to an NBA game to support their team as fans await word on when they can show their support at the American Airlines Center.
On Sunday, the Mavericks (without Luka Doncic) played the Chicago Bulls who found themselves missing key players due to COVID protocols but they had their superstar in Zach LaVine to guide them through a 118-108 victory. Jalen Brunson started this game in place of Luka Doncic, who is dealing with a quad contusion suffered in a game versus the Miami Heat. Brunson was able to fill in the void by scoring 31 points for the Mavericks. Zach LaVine scored 39 points with 29 of them coming in the first half as Dallas led 60-59. The Mavericks were able to pull within five points with five minutes remaining in the game on a basket by Josh Richardson but Colby White hit a 3-pointer with 1:33 left for a 113-105 lead in what ultimately sealed the victory for the Bulls. The positive thing that came out of this was that Kristaps Porzingis has been cleared for full contact as he inches closer to a return but still without a timetable as of yet.
The Houston Rockets are coming into this game with a 2-2 record with back-to-back wins against the Sacramento Kings. The Rockets look to continue their dominance in the western conference as they were able to reach the semifinals last season. Houston come into this season making key changes to the roster including firing Mike D’Antoni and replacing him with former Mavericks assistant coach, Stephen Silas. They made some noise in the offseason by trading Russell Westbrook to the Washington Wizards in exchange for John Wall and were also able to sign his former Kentucky teammate, DeMarcus Cousins, to form a the remnants of a big 3 that consists of Wall, Cousins and Harden. After all those moves it would turn out to be acquiring Christian Wood from the Detroit Pistons being the crucial player as Wood has gotten off to a terrific start by averaging 23.8 points per game for the Rockets. There was some buzz surrounding the organization about the future of James Harden remaining on the team as he decides his future. Teams around the NBA have been putting up trade offers to the Rockets in the event that Harden becomes available. The plan for the Rockets is to compete with Harden still on the team but should the Rockets struggle this season don’t be surprised if the Rockets do indeed trade Harden.
Entering this game versus the Rockets, the Mavericks lost the season series 2-1 last season with the Rockets claiming two of the most recent matchups. These teams will meet up two more times in the first half of the season. The Rockets have taken 14 of the last 18 matchups including a 153 point outburst, the highest scoring total ever by a Dallas opponent that came on the first game of the NBA restart in 2020. Luka Doncic averaged 34.5 points per game in two appearances versus the Rockets while James Harden averaged 38.7 points per game in three appearances versus the Mavericks last season. These two teams are very familiar with each other being division rivals in which fans argue which city has the better team in Texas. Overall, the Rockets have the edge in this series by leading 98-84 all-time.
The Mavericks started this game with a lineup change going with Willie Cauley-Stein instead of Dwight Powell at center. This of course comes after the Mavericks have been struggling grabbing rebounds and hope this lineup change generates some spark in this game. Right on cue the game started with a Willie Cayley-Stein steal on defense but the Mavericks were unable to capitalize on the other end. With a Willie Cauley-Stein offensive rebound, Dorian Finney-Smith made a basket while being fouled and was able to complete the three point play by making the free-throw. The Mavericks were able to take a 12-2 lead with Luka Doncic making a 27-foot three point jumper in the early stages of the first quarter. The Mavericks felt the difference with Willie Cauley-Stein in the starting lineup impacting the team right away with 6 points, 3 rebounds and 1 assist. The Mavs took a 16-10 lead with 5:46 left in the quarter as the Rockets took a timeout. Coming off the timeout, the Mavericks were able to go on a 9-4 run to increase the lead to 11 points with a score of 25-14. The Mavericks have seen tremendous improvement in their rebounding by winning the second chance points battle 7-0 to this point. In the final 2:00 minutes of the quarter, a prayer was answered as Tim Hardaway Jr hit an off balance 23-foot three point jumper with the shot clock expiring to take a 30-17 lead. A questionable call made by the refs that saw James Harden being bailed out on a double team to go to the free-throw line is how the finals points were made by both teams in the quarter. The Mavericks were able to take a 33-21 lead heading into the second quarter as you couldn’t of asked the Mavericks to get off to a better start by out rebounding the Rockets by a 16-7 margin. The Mavericks are 2-0 this season when out rebounding their opponent so that’s a good sign in this game.
The Rockets started the second quarter with double technical fouls on DeMarcus Cousins and Willie Cauley-Stein as those two are familiar with each other during their times at Kentucky University. John Wall was able to drive to the basket for two points while getting fouled and finished the three point play by making the free-throw as part of a 9-3 run. The Rockets would have to find a way to generate production in their big men as DeMarcus Cousins picked up another technical foul giving him two and resulting in an automatic ejection in his three minutes of playing time. Jalen Brunson was able to hit the technical free-throw giving the Mavericks a 37-30 lead with 9:00 minutes remaining in the second quarter. Both teams had to be careful with their actions as these refs were not afraid of handing technical fouls. The Rockets found themselves in the bonus early with the refs calling everything they see, and as a result Christian Wood took advantage by driving to the paint for two points while getting fouled and able to finish the three point play by making the free-throw to cut the lead within two points with the score 40-38 in favor of the Mavericks. Josh Richardson was able to end the Mavericks cold spell by hitting a 14-foot jumper to take a 42-38 lead with 4:50 left in the quarter. The Mavericks were able to make a 8-4 run before the Rockets decided to call timeout to give the Rockets a chance to cut the lead. In the final two minutes of the second quarter, Luka Doncic and Josh Richardson were able to hit get going from the three point line, allowing for the Mavericks to take a 59-47 lead. The quarter would finish with Luka Doncic hitting a dirk fadeaway shot, and you guessed it another technical foul with Mavericks Assistant Coach, Darrell Armstrong, being the victim and James Harden capitalize on it by hitting the free-throw to close out the quarter. This is a quarter that if you like to blow whistles then this was your quarter as the refs wanted their whistles to be heard loud and clear. The Mavericks would end the quarter by taking a 61-49 lead heading into the third quarter. The Mavericks found themselves in foul trouble with Maxi Kleber, Josh Richardson and Dwight Powell each with 3 personal fouls as I warned you that the refs were calling everything. Luka Doncic had a 20 point first half to go along with 8 rebounds as he’s improving his three point shooting by going 3 of 7 in the first half. The Mavericks were able to get energy and intensity from Willie Cauley-Stein and Maxi Kleber being in the starting lineup. James Harden had himself a 13 point first half but struggled from three by draining only 1 shot from deep. It would be Christian Wood continuing his hot start to the season by leading the Rockets with 15 points on 5 of 8 shooting from the field. The Mavericks had themselves a season-high in 2nd chance points by scoring 16 points through two quarters of play, something they were looking to improve on. The Mavericks were perfect from the free-throw line as they were 13 of 13 from the line as you got to take advantage of teams giving you extra points, that’s why they are called “FREE-throws” because they are “FREE” points. Overall, the Mavericks shot 19 of 43 (44.2%) from the field and 10 of 22 (45.6%) from three point range. The Rockets struggled from three by draining only 3 shots in the half which is something you don’t see that often from these Rockets as they love to make them from three point range. The Mavericks won the rebounding game by out rebounding the Rockets by a 28-19 margin. This is the second highest scoring half from the Mavericks this season
Coming out of the half, Luka Doncic fed Willie Cauley-Stein for the alley oop to give Cauley-Stein the first four points in the quarter for the Mavericks. It was Josh Richardson’s turn to feed Cauley-Stein as he tried dunking unsuccessfully while being fouled but he would go on to make only 1 free-throw. The technical fouls continued on with James Harden being the victim this time as he complained to the refs, something you can’t do this in this game. Josh Richardson was able to make the technical free-throw to take a 66-49 lead for the Mavericks in the early stages of the third quarter. Luka Doncic took advantage of the whistles and decided to drive to the paint making the basket while being fouled and was able to make the free-throw to complete the three point play to put the Mavericks up by 16 points with 7:49 left in the quarter. This is type of Luka, Maverick fans are accustomed to seeing by being aggressive with the ball. Somebody check the calendar as this was “International Technical Foul Day” for the refs as the refs again decided to handout another technical foul with Luka Doncic being the victim and James Harden making the technical free-throw to change the score to 72-61 in favor of the Mavericks. Shoot give me technical foul while you’re at it. There have been six technical fouls in this game up to this point and there’s still another quarter to play. The Rockets were able to go on a 14-0 run to cut the lead within two points but it was Tim Hardaway Jr being the drought buster for the Mavericks by making a 24-foot jumper to increase the lead to 5 points for the Mavericks with the score of 75-70 with 2:49 left in the third quarter. The quarter would end with Luka Doncic taking advantage of the bonus by hitting both free-throws to take a 84-77 lead heading into the final quarter. Luka Doncic would lead the Mavericks in scoring with 27 points on 9 of 20 shooting from the field while Christian Wood led his team with 19 points on 7 of 12 shooting. The Mavericks are going to the fourth being +13 on the rebounding end.
The Mavericks would start this fourth quarter by making a mistake fouling Aaron Gordon shooting a three late in the shot clock and would make all of his free-throws to cut the lead within five in the early minutes of this quarter. The Rockets were able to climb all the way back to tie the game by going on 8-1 run with Sterling Brown hitting the equalizing shot as Rick Carlisle was forced to take a timeout to stop the bleeding with 9:59 left in the game. Coming off the timeout, Jalen Brunson was able to retake the lead by hitting two quick shots for the Mavericks to increase the score 89-85. Every time that the Rockets had the chance to take the lead in this game, they simply couldn’t make the shot. A big three point shot by Tim Hardaway Jr increased the lead back up to five points with 7:17 left in the game as the Rockets called timeout in order to get their offense going. With a bucket by Tim Hardaway Jr that gave him 22 points, a career-high for coming off the bench as part of a 7-0 run as the Mavericks are taking control of this quarter with 4:48 left in the game. Coming off a Rockets timeout, the Rockets struggled in which it mattered the most as they couldn’t afford to buy a bucket. As what good teams do, the Mavericks were able to capitalize on the Rockets struggles by keeping the pressure on them with Luka Doncic scoring an easy basket. With a fancy pass by Luka Doncic to Tim Hardaway Jr and him making the shot that would give Luka his first triple-double of the season. The Mavericks could see the finish line as they continued to pour it on the Rockets with an exclamation point by Tim Hardaway Jr making a 29-foot three point jumper in the final seconds of this game. Shockingly there were no technical fouls in this quarter.
This team looked way better than Sunday night’s game as Luka Doncic looked like the MVP favorite by having a big night. Rick Carlisle needs to find a way to keep this lineup while Kristaps Porzingis comes back to the court. Tim Hardaway looked good by coming off the bench by scoring 30 points with 7 rebounds to go along with it.
In the end it was the Mavericks claiming victory with the score of 113-110 to improve to 3-4 on the season while the Rockets fell to 2-3. What a fantastic way of responding to a disappointing loss by coming out ready to play in this one. This was a great team win all around with everyone getting involved. Willie Cauley-Stein had a big 15 points being the starter in this game. Luka Doncic was able to be himself by having a triple-double that consisted of 33 points, 16 rebounds and 11 assists. The Mavericks saw their rebounding improve with the new lineup by being +16 in this one. Every time the Rockets made a run, the Mavericks were there to offset and when you hold the Rockets to 100 points that’s saying something. Luka Doncic set the Mavericks franchise record of most games leading the team in points, rebounds and assists with 39 in 139 career games played as he passed Dirk Nowitzki with 38 as he did it in 1,522 career games. The Mavericks are 3-0 when they win the rebounding battle this season.
The Mavericks will head west as they will land in Denver, Colorado to face the Denver Nuggets on Thursday in the final stretch of the road trip. The Mavericks hope they will be taking a winning streak when they head back home after this road trip.