THE MOMENT. KINDA: The moment it seemed clear: The Dallas Mavericks on the break, Marion-to-Jet-to-Marion for yet another layup and the Mavs were up seven with 5:25 left in the second at Houston.
It was all part of Dallas' frequent flashes to the rim – dunks by Chandler and Marion, post-ups by Marion and Peja -- as the Mavs scored 18 of their first 22 baskets in paint (to the 2:31 mark of the first half) and a total of 40 first-half points. In the second quarter alone, Dallas shot 75 percent and scored 22 points in the paint.
And on that Marion finish, before the ball was halfway down the net, there was Tyson Chandler, resting on the bench, popping up and striding confidently onto the floor – in celebration of the play, in anticipation of a Houston timeout, maybe in anticipation of how the rout was on.
Two outta three ain't bad. … even though Dallas did get up by 23. … but then let the gap evaporate to three in the late-going.
HERE'S YOUR HIGHLIGHT PACKAGE:
PEJA'S NO. 4!: There's a Peja sighting, baby! There he is!"
That's Dirk, postgame, yelling in the locker room at Peja Stojakovic, who had made 5-of-20 shots as a Mav coming in.
He's now got a 22-point game under his belt coming out of Houston.
From day one we've preached patience with Peja Stojakovic as he searched for his rhythm, his shot and his legs after almost two months away from live action. While it may be premature to label that time of patience as passed, for one night we were rewarded with a glimpse of what we hope will eventually become commonplace.
Or, maybe it's not premature.
"He looked like his old self, just roaming out there, making shots from all over the place," said Dirk Nowitzki. "It was fun to watch."
Kevin Martin drew the early defensive assignment and provided the spark to unleash Peja's offense.
In the first quarter, Peja had already tied his high in points as a Mav at eight. By the end of the night, he had 22 points (a season-high, besting the 17 he scored against the Mavs as a member of the Hornets and the most he's scored since February 2010) on 8-of-12 field-goal attempts, including 4-of-6 behind the 3-point line, to go with four rebounds and a steal. He did that work from the arc when it was appropriate, but earlier he used his 6-10 frame to own Martin on post-up shots.
He also set a new high as a Mav with 28 minutes, and other than the final minutes of the first quarter (where he played all but the final 16 seconds), appeared to handle the load well.
Passing Dale Ellis, Peja moved into fourth place on the all-time 3-pointers made list, sitting just behind Jason Kidd at third. Adding Jason Terry at eighth on that list, and you have three Mavs standing within the top eight most prolific 3-point shooters in NBA history.
"It's easy to play with these guys,''Pej said. "I get so many good looks because they draw so much attention. ... There's so much talent out there. I'm trying to get involved in the offense without taking anything away from the guys who have been playing so good. So far I've been getting great looks."
COMPARING PEJA WITH … JJB?: Before and after the game, Carlisle compared Peja's shooting slump with JJB's.
And in effect, compared the two players as shooters – quite a compliment to the Pride of Puerto Rico.
"Look, Barea didn't hit a 3-pointer for two months,'' Carlisle said, "and the last 30 days he's the best 3-point shooter in the league. (Peja) has just got to stick with it, and he will.''
And he did.
Oh, and so has JJB.
JJ Barea continues to plead his case against forfeiting any of his minutes to the soon-to-return Roddy B.
In the second quarter, the Mavs bench, led by Barea, created the surge that Houston would never overcome. Barea (11 points total) scored six straight points at one point, and let loose more than a single highlight reel pass … passes that generally concluded with momentum changing or building dunks for Dallas.
There was a near half-court bounce-pass that found a streaking Shawn Marion, and moments later, there was a ball tickling the underside of the Toyota Center's ceiling that Tyson Chandler plucked from the air and slammed home.
This was a play with such excitement that a Mavs fan wearing a Dirk jersey in the front row could not contain himself and caused a collection of drinks to spill from the tray of an arena worker passing by … stopping the game for several minutes while the spillage was cleaned up to the pleasure of the Dallas players looking on.
In Houston, they surely figured that JJB meant Aaron Brooks could get off. But JJB obviously figured that thank to Aaron, HE can get off.
Lately, though, JJB has been doing this no matter the foe.
This month he's averages 15.7 points on 52.3-percent shooting.
FLICK OF THE WRIST: Beyond the first truly strong game from Peja you need look no further than Dirk Nowitzki to find another huge positive. Not since the wrist injury had we seen this version of The UberMan.
Our friend Steve Dennis on TXA21 labeled Dirk's performance "adequate'' or something like that.
Dirk was aggressive when the situation called for it, dropping the recent passivity, and after a slow start (1-of-5) he would go 7-of-11 for the rest of the night on his way to 22 points (tying Peja for the team lead in scoring), six rebounds, two blocks, two assists and one steal.
With Peja possibly coming on, Dirk appearing to be returning to full health and the feeling that Roddy Beaubois could play in Dallas' next game … things have the sensation of looking up.
Is it odd to say that about a 38-16 team who sits tied for the fourth best record in the NBA, and tied for second in the Western Conference with the Lakers?
YOU GOT TROUBLES?: We don't think it's "troubling,'' exactly, that Dallas almost lost a 23-point to Houston one game after having lost a 13-point lead (and the game) at Denver. We don't think it's "troubling'' because we simply think it's part-and-parcel of what Dallas is: Good enough to get up by 13 or by 23 and to end up winning the large majority of those games.
Hey, if the other team makes six 3-pointers in a fourth quarter – many of them of the despy variety – the other team is going to sometimes come back.
And what about this (as we continue our homerish rant): Yeah, Houston (which trailed by 25 the last time these teams played) mounted its feverish rally and just inside of the 2:00 mark was down three.
But the Rockets didn't score again until there were 21 seconds left and Dallas was back up by eight and finishing up at the free-throw line.
It adds up to another 5-points-or-fewer victory … the capper to about 40 minutes of blowout basketball, then a lull, then two more minutes of blowout basketball.
Remember, the Dallas Mavericks traveled to Houston Saturday night in the hopes of washing away the bitter taste of a last-second loss to the Nuggets, and though they would allow another lead to be erased in the fourth quarter, they would emerge with a smile and a win.
We'll take ‘em both.
WHO DESERVES THE DIRKIE?: Go vote!
QUOTEBOARD: "This was the hope,'' Carlisle said of Peja. "That he would get some traction.''
More of what everybody is saying about everything in McKinneyDentist.com Quoteboard after every game!
WEIRD SUBS AND NON-SUBS: Kevin Martin is second in the league in scoring per minute. Kevin Martin leads the league in 3-point makes.
Kevin Martin didn't get off the bench during crunch time and was held under 20 points for the first time in six games. He went 0-of-4 from 3-point range.
The Rockets opted to go with their own 3-PG Attack featuring guards Aaron Brooks, Kyle Lowry and Courtney Lee.
Did Dallas hold Martin (who did sustain an early twisted ankle) to 17 points? Or did Houston coach Rick Adelman keep him in check?
MAVSELLANEOUS: The Mavs were up 82-67 after three and it really wasn't that close. Ten turnovers in the third quarter from Dallas – and consecutive late 3's from Kyle Lowry -- were the only reason Houston was that close … Tyson Chandler picked up his 10th technical foul of the season. He talks of trying to cool it, but honestly, all we think he needs to do is make sure he's "funneling it.'' And we don't see that as a problem. There is a difference between "distracted anger'' (ala Josh Howard) and passionate protest. TY says he's going to challenge the T called against him here. … Dallas won its 11 th in 12 outings. … Dallas has made a 3-pointer in an NBA-record 992 consecutive games … A nice strategic move late in the game from Carlisle as he replaced Dirk at the 4 with The Ianimal. That after he showed well early, Mahinmi relentlessly going after five points and four rebounds in the first quarter … Despite the late swell, Houston would finish the night hitting only 40.6 percent of their shots, making this 12 times Dallas has held their opponent at or below 40 percent for the season. … Dallas would score 40 of their 57 first-half points in the paint. The most they've totaled in any half this season. … Houston would outscore Dallas 35-24 in the final period, riding the wave of those six made 3-pointers. …We'll say this about the Rockets' defense: They're small, but they're slow. … The Mavs have scored 100 points in 10 of their last 11 games. Dallas is 27-2 when it reaches 100 … If you insist on saying Dallas almost blew this, we will grant you this: With the lead building and the chance to put the game completely out of reach, the Mavs committed 10 turnovers in the third quarter alone. At the time, the lead remained significant (16 after the third), but the stage had been set for another opportunity to crush a team to morph into a close game -- a close game that you can argue should have never been. … No showcase for Brendan Haywood here. DNP.
2 2's LEFT BEHIND: While the majority of the Mavs were finding their offensive flow, two were left behind.
Jason Terry was quiet with seven points and 2-of-7 shots, while DeShawn Stevenson was the only Dallas player to see the court and not score as he missed all three of his shots.
For Stevenson, this is becoming a deep trend. Since Jan. 12, over the course of 17 games, Stevenson has seen his shooting touch completely abandon him.
During that time he is hitting 29.9 percent of his field-goal attempts and 28.6 percent of his shots taken behind the 3-point arc.
Terry had not had a good night (1-of-5 FGs three points) to the 3:40 mark of the game, when he curled into the lane and made a second bucket.
Add up the work of DeShawn and Jet, and yes, there is probably a little room for Roddy B to be freed at the 2-guard.
LONG BOUNDS?: Houston scored 31 second-chance points, the most Dallas has given up all season. Considering the considerable size disadvantage the Rockets have in comparison to Dallas, this is ugly.
However, considering the fact that Houston took 29 three pointers while making 11 (six in the fourth), the high number of long rebounds may provide some explanation.
DOUBLEMINT TWINS … ER, SEXTUPLETS: For the 29th time this season and the 11th consecutive instance at least five Mavs finished with at least 10 points. Their record when that occurs: 25-4.
Those scoring in double digits were: Dirk (22), Peja (22), Shawn Marion (14), Tyson Chandler (12), Jason Kidd (11) and JJ Barea (11).
MAKE-OR-BREAK: For the Rockets, this was the beginning of a pre-All-Star-Break three-game homestand that Houston coach Rick Adelman said would "make-or-break of our season."
Well … break?
Houston is especially mediocre at home, now sporting a 14-12 record, which makes Houston's playoff talk sound awfully silly.
Listen, we know that in Houston, the Mavs are seen as a rival. But this year, the Rockets are 25-30 and they are 0-3 against Dallas. The Mavs have won 17 of the last 23 meetings.
"I don't know what it is about Dallas where we feel like we have to get down 27 points before we play,'' Adelman said. "We put no fight up until the second half."
THE FINAL WORD: "At this point right now, any of the guys in the rotation are potential clutch playmakers. ... That balance defines who we are." – Rick Carlisle.