LET'S START AT THE START: "How we start is very important," Dallas Mavericks oach Rick Carlisle said going into Rockets-at-Dallas. "We're concentrating on better starts. It was a priority coming into the season. We did real well with it the first third of the season. We had periods where we didn't do so great. Now, it's another area of emphasis. Right now, that's one of our big priorities."
If you feared a slow start from the Mavs against the Rockets, the 24-to-6 run in the first quarter likely set your mind at ease … though that peace of mind would not last.
After getting ahead by as much as 25 in the first period, Dallas took a 17-point lead into the half, having held Houston to 41.7-percent shooting while hitting 54 percent of their own attempts … the dream appeared to be rolling along as the Mavs set a new season high for scoring in the first half with 64 points.
"We've got a really good team here," Carlisle reflected after the game. "We just have to work at continuing to get better. In those situations where we can build big leads, we'd like to add to them. I felt that we did not get that done tonight."
Indeed, the Rockets intruded upon the dream start with a 26-to-6 run in the third, hitting 59 percent of their shots in the quarter, and rendering what had begun in a near ideal fashion into the landscape of a looming nightmare.
Yet, as they have made a habit of doing this season, the Mavs endured the Luis Scola-led (game-high 30 points) fight back, letting Houston as close as one in the final minute, only to come together in the final breaths to seal the victory.
Shawn Marion, you were lovin' that first half, right?
THE SOPHISTICATED ROCKETS: They are "a really sophisticated offense,'' Carlisle said, but to us, Houston – especially early on – looked like a sloppy and disorganized mess.
A truly stunning array of turnovers fueled Dallas' early lead, and Tyson Chandler's ability to roll off his screening and to the bucket looked as "sophisticated'' as anything Houston pulled off.
DB.com went 1-on-1 with Jason Kidd (who contributed a double-double with 11 points and 10 assists) pose questions regarding the difference between this team and that team.
HEALTHY AT HOME: This is a continuation of a Dallas four-game homestand that suddenly looks like a get-well card mailed to itself.
The Mavs handled LAC with their highest scoring output of the season.
They were one point behind that pace Thursday.
On Saturday, the Hawks present a challenge.
And on Monday, the Wizards come hang-doggin' into town.
You won't hear anybody in the locker room putting voice to the notion of a homestand sweep … and let's face it, Dallas has been too erratic in too many ways to put a lot of money on week-long high-level play. Yeah, we remember the 17-1 streak but we also remember the precipitous plummet of going 2-7 while Dirk-less.
But it would be nice to springboard from 28-15 (where Dallas started the week) to 32-15 or so ("or so'' being where continued success could take the Mavs).
WOES ARC: (Get it?) "Houston is a team that gives up a lot of 3's and they're a team that can make a lot of 3's, too," Jason Kidd said.
Here's what Houston gave up on Thursday: Seven Mavs in double-figures.
This is beyond Rick's wildest dreams: Tyson Chandler (21), JJ Barea (19), Dirk Nowitzki (18), Jason Terry (15), Jason Kidd (11), Sasha Pavlovic (11) and Shawn Marion (10).
Dallas is now 8-0 when at least six players reach double digits in points.
HOUSTON'S D: As mercurial as Dallas can be, the Rockets are the same way – only the highs are not as high for a Houston team that plays at a fast pace and takes its chances from there.
If course, it's almost immaterial what players Houston uses or what level of "sophistication'' the Rockets achieve strategically … The UberMan is always a bear for them.
Entering the game, Nowitzki – a leading MVP candidate before his Dec. 27 knee sprain – was averaging 19 points per in his six outings since returning. "Quicksand,'' and all that.
But when he sees Rockets, he sees red.
Since 2003-04, Dirk has averaged 26.1 points versus the Rockets at the AAC. That including an unforgettable career-high 53-point extravaganza in December 2004. And when he scores, Dallas beats Houston; Dallas came in 23-3 in games when Dirk scores 20-plus against the Rockets.
So did Houston fine an answer here? Or … is it a process?
Dirk Nowitzki has looked better … at times. Yet, constant reminders come that each game is simply another step along the way of getting The UberMan back to his former self.
Thursday, there was the timeout late in the game Carlisle called in frustration after Dirk (among others) stood rooted in place as a Rocket player casually grabbed an offensive rebound and converted what should have been a defensive stop into an easy basket.
We have to believe a healthy, fully-conditioned Dirk gets to that ball.
If one lost board isn't enough, consider the fact that this is the second game since his return to see Dirk grab as few as two rebounds. Over those seven games, he has averaged only 4.8 per game.
There's also the fact that Dirk would go 0-of-4 in the fourth quarter and miss a free throw down the stretch … a rarity for him.
Nowitzki had 18 points and we are not complaining, exactly, but …
''Dirk was Superman for the first third of the season,'' Carlisle said. ''Right now, we're going to have to be there for him.''
Nowitzki has led his team in scoring in three of his seven games back. But his shooting has been inconsistent, and Nowitzki admitted his legs sometimes feel heavy.
''It's getting better,'' Nowitzki said of his conditioning. ''I was moving better again, especially in the first half, but in the second half I got a little fatigued. But I've got to keep on fighting, and eventually I'll get there.''
DIRK AND ‘TRIX AND FATIGUE: One other hint that Dirk remains tangled in the fight to return to health, there was the substitutions made with 5:11 left in the game. Perhaps our eyes played a trick on us, but it certainly appeared that Shawn Marion was heading to the bench only to have Dirk motion for him to stay on the court so he (Dirk) could go to the bench in his stead.
Of course, Nowitzki wouldn't sit for long, getting back on the court for the final three minutes.
It may not be a big deal over time, but it remains evidence that Dirk simply isn't back to where he was before the injury.
CHANDLER'S HEART-AND-SOUL FOOD: Also apparently fond of home cookin': Tyson Chandler, the Mavericks center who shot 5-of-5 from the floor and made all 11 of his free-throw attempts on Tuesday for a season-best 21 points, and then bounced right back here against the smallish Rockets with another 21-point explosion.
T.Y. was named the "Player of the Game" in the arena, and certainly did his part to earn that honor by making it the third consecutive game to at least match his previous season high in scoring and pitching in 15 rebounds, too.
Chandler also stretched a streak of free throws made without a miss to 22 before missing late in the third. Over the last five games, he's converted a rather Dirk-like 31-of-33 free throws (93.9 percent).
Perhaps just as impressive a number is the fact that he has earned an average of 6.6 attempts from the line over those five games.
"Tyson is getting more accustomed to what we are doing offensively, which is good," Carlisle said.
Over the past three games, Chandler is averaging more than 20 points per … and seems to be becoming more "accustomed" by the minute.
Dallas is now 7-2 when Chandler posts a double-double and is 9-1 when he scores 14-plus.
Chandler has totaled 61 points in his last three games, laudable in every way. But … we find it odd that Rick notes that T.Y. is "getting accustomed'' to the Mavs gameplan.
It's late January, y'all. And we're just now "getting accustomed'' to stuff?
We do believe we should get accustomed, for the next few days, to Dallas pushing T.Y. for the All-Star Game. Mark Cuban mentioned it before the game and Jet mentioned it after the game and what the coaches will really have to decide is whether Dallas deserves two (Dirk and Tyson) All-Stars.
JJB REDUX: While Chandler certainly did enough to justify the title of "Player of the Game," JJ Barea would have made the in-AAC decision much tougher had it been delayed until after the final whistle.
Barea was phenomenal down the stretch, scoring 10 of his 19 points in the fourth quarter and refusing to let the Mavs give the game away. Despite the presence of Dirk Nowitzki, Jason Terry, Jason Kidd and Tyson Chandler, it seemed to be Barea collecting every late basket the Mavs had to have.
"(Barea) was getting like two or three picks at a time," Rockets coach Rick Adelman would say after the game, "and you try to stay home on Nowitzki and you try to help on Terry and Kidd and (Barea) made us pay."
To be direct, this is a game the Mavs don't win if Barea doesn't play at the level he played as the game wound to a tight conclusion. … and that's back-to-back games in which that's been the case.
However, when it comes to Player of the Game, that really isn't decided by the AAC staff.
That's determined by you. Here. Now.
McKINNEYDENTIST.COM QUOTEBOARD SAMPLER: ''There's no question he's not even close to being Dirk Nowitzki. We've got to keep getting wins and giving him some time.'' – JJB.
There's lots more where that came from in the McKinneyDentist.com Quoteboard.
THE KEVIN MARTIN TRYOUT: It's about to become Open Season, and so this can be an almost nightly feature. " Let's take a close-up look at prospective Mav Tayshaun Prince.'' "Let's do some scouting of Mav trade target Corey Maggette.'' "Hey, how would this Kevin Martin look in a Dallas uni?''
As DallasBasketball.com reported early on in this process, Houston 2-guard Kevin Martin is a fave of the Mavs front office. Will Houston ever let him go to a division rival? Will Houston ever let him go, period? Will Houston ever let him go to an in-state foe?
We will comment with snark on that last query, which we see written frequently with a negative answer.
The Rockets are not stupid enough to avoid making smart trades (speaking generally here, not about Martin) because 100 years ago somebody drew a boundary on a map.
What does "in-state'' have to do with anything?
Anyway, Kevin is having his ups and downs in trying to carry that club offensively. He scored just eight points on Wednesday (and the FT machine failed to get to the line even once, first time all year that's happened). Before that, he'd averaged 28.2 points in his previous five games.
And on Thursday? Martin – who'd averaged 15.3 points per in his last three visits to Dallas – was right back at it with 27 points.
As more proof of how fond Mark Cuban & Co. are of Martin: Before the game, Tony Cubes playfully challenged Martin to a game of one-on-one.
"(Cuban) is pretty confident about his game,'' said Martin, who wisely declined … because what in the heck does he have to gain there?
BIZARRO JET : "We've become accustomed to Terry struggling through three quarters and suddenly finding life as the fourth begins. On this night the opposite took place.
Through three, Terry was 4-of-6 shooting for 11 points. In the final period he went 0-of-6 … though he was able to find his shot when needed most. In the closing minute at the free-throw line he would hit all four of his attempts to ensure the win. … and get himself 15 points.
What the heck, Jet? Let's allow him to explain it himself:
MAVSELLANEOUS: Dallas had taken 15 of the last 20 matchups with the Rockets, including a 101-91 victory in late November. However, long before the opening tip there were already two considerable differences between that game and Thursday night. First, Aaron Brooks would be taking the court for Houston after missing the previous contest with a left ankle sprain. Though he would only total six points in 25 minutes of action. Second, when the Mavs needed a lift in that November game, it was Caron Butler scoring 13 of his 19 points in the third quarter to provide it. Obviously, with Butler unavailable as he recovers from knee surgery, that was not an option. … The Rox came in allowing an average of 110.1 points over seven January games and came out giving up 111. So that's, um, consistency? … Nowitzki was kidding (wasn't he?) the other day when he said, "When your average age is about 36, there will always be some nights when you are a step slow.'' The Rockets' pace can make you look slower than they are – but not team-wide-26-years-old slower, OK? … In the everybody-makes-a-run department: Houston put together a 26-6 run to narrow the fat first-half deficit to 77-75 with 4:06 left in the third quarter. Is that a Dallas flaw, or just the way the basketball bounces? … Luis Scola is a subtle sort of beast, isn't he, with him brutalizing people on the way to his 30 points? … Dallas had its largest halftime lead and best scoring half of the season and while it didn't end up as a blowout, ''You can't get yourself in a 25-point hole and expect to win,'' Kevin Martin said. … Houston's 15-point first quarter matched its lowest of the season for the opening quarter – and maybe Dallas is realizing that one way to get off to a good start is to put a defensive lid on the opponent. … Once upon a time -- Jan. 22, 1977, against Portland, to be precise -- the Rockets came back from 23 down to win. That's their all-timer. Close but no cigar here. … Dirk and Jet combined to go 0-for-10 in the fourth. … We're working on the translation of this week's Roddy B talk with the French media, but all that really matters to us is this: Beaubois tells DB.com that he's involved in some contact stuff but – contrary to one report – is not yet involved in full Mavs practices. When he is, you will learn the straight dope here … The Dallas subs outscored the Rockets bench, 48-14. … An insightful observation from Kidd on the Yao-less Rockets and the freedom JJB therefore has: "For a team like Houston, they don't have a shot-blocker,'' Kidd said, "and that's perfect for us because J.J. puts a lot of pressure on them."
SASHA STEP-UP: After three subpar performances as the starting small forward, Sasha Pavlovic bounced back for a nice contribution. He would finish by hitting four of his seven shots, including 3-of-4 behind the arc, for 11 points, and earn some praise from his coach.
"Another guy, Pavlovic, was real good for us tonight." Carlisle said. "I thought defensively he was real solid and he hit some shots."
Here's more from Rick's postgame presser:
BIG WOOD, BIG ENOUGH: The signs were good early for another strong performance from Brendan Haywood, who earned a great deal of well-deserved praise for his defensive play against the Clippers, when he slammed home a putback dunk and quickly hustled back down the court to force a miss.
However, in the second half, it was again Ian Mahinmi acting as the primary backup for Chandler.
While mentioning Mahinmi, we must also note that he did play a little power forward once again, including a bit of time on the court at the same time as Haywood.
"HOUSTON, WE HAVE A …'': Well, it's not a problem. Not yet. But it's a challenge.
The Rockets beat visiting LAC on Wednesday, so this was the second night of a b2b. Up next for the Rox: Three more roadies, at the Spurs, at the Lakers and at the Jazz.
Coach Rick Adelman doesn't seem to have many variations of "happy face,'' but he'll try.
acknowledges the tough task at hand, he remains confident in his team.
"You look at the teams,'' Adelman said, "and you say 'Oh, geez,' (but) I think if we play the way we're capable of playing, we can beat anybody.''
Yeah, but no.
When the Mavs are playing well (in a first half, anyway) and the Rockets are playing well (in a second half, anyway), the Mavs are exactly five points better, right?
THE FINAL WORD: The Mavericks are 30-15, the eighth team to reach the 30-win mark. And they are "spreading the wealth'' to accomplish that, said Jet.
"Everybody's getting involved and when we score over 100, you can check the record,'' Terry said.
OK, check it. The Mavericks are 20-1 when they score over 100 points.