First Impressions: Mavs 117, Rockets 110
"I think we're down to one game,'' Dallas Mavericks coach Rick Carlisle said, calculating the club's path to the playoffs. "If we win Friday, we're in. We understand things and we talked about it this morning. This game was really pivotal in so many ways because it's a double-count game on the whole ‘magic number' thing, and it effectively takes one team out of it, which is big.''
Houston, which entered the game in ninth place in the Western Conference after a four-game losing streak, was the slightly more desperate squad in need of a W to keep their slim playoff chances alive. The Rockets are the "double-count game'' victims. Meanwhile, with the win Wednesday, the Mavericks took one big step closer to solidifying an invitation to defend their championship.
Dallas was led by Dirk Nowitzki's 35 points, including 31 in the second half and 21 in the fourth quarter. The Mavericks also enjoyed an aggressive performance from Vince Carter, who scored 23 points and finished with a game-high plus-20 in 29 minutes of work. Overall, Dallas had five players in double figures with Jason Terry scoring 19 points, Jason Kidd with 12 and Delonte West adding 11 points. Dallas is now 20-10 when five or more Mavericks score in double figures.
Houston was led by Goran Dragic's 20 points and Luis Scola's 18. Courtney Lee added 16 points and Marcus Camby chipped in a double-double with 11 points and a game-high 17 rebounds.
After two disheartening overtime losses to Los Angeles and Utah, Dallas rode a 20-8 run over the end of the third and fourth quarters to take a lead it would never relinquish. Dallas buried five of its 11 three-pointers in the fourth quarter and shot nearly 65 percent in the quarter to seal the win.
Houston entered the game surrendering 47.5-percent shooting to opponents on the road, second-worst in the NBA. Dallas would capitalize, shooting 52 percent overall, including 42 percent from the arc.
Though Dallas trailed entering the fourth quarter and had been only 3-24 in such situations, the trio of Nowitzki, Terry and Carter outscored the entire Houston squad 34-26 in the final quarter. After faltering down the stretch in their previous two games, the Mavs were encouraged by their ability to close out a quality opponent. They did so with big shots and with some little things that speak to the desperation of the situation, including 39-year-old Kidd bravely drawing a charge on Kyle Lowry in the final minutes with Houston trying to cut into a four-point deficit.
"The game-winning play to me was when (Kidd) stepped in there and took the charge,'' Dirk said. "That was an unbelievable play. He's a warrior and he leaves it there every night when he's out there. … He's got a little pep in his step. He's still the head of the snake."
With the win and the rest of the West shakedown, Dallas is in sixth. A win Friday against a depleted Golden State squad will solidify a playoff spot for the defending champions.
For the Mavs, the desperation has temporarily passed. Ideally, on the horizon is time to focus on sharpening the team's focus and maintaining overall health – some classic "rest vs. rust'' debates.
As a reward: The playoffs – and more desperation.