First Impressions: Mavs 116, Rockets 109
The Dallas Mavericks have a history with the Rockets, coming into Saturday having won seven straight against the Southwest Division rival Rockets.
Shawn Marion has a history with muscle strains, but he's dealt with them with the same aplomb his team usually uses against Houston. Trix has in the last five years popped up on the NBA injury report six different times with strains. In five of the six cases -- with injuries to his calf, oblique, back and left groin -- he's generally recovered quickly and returned to the form that makes him a grossly under-appreciated defensive ace.
Ah, but as noted by DB.com athletic training expert Jeff Stotts, in 2008-09, a left groin strain cost Marion six games. This is a right groin strain sustained in Phoenix on Thursday, and while Shawn participated lightly in Dallas' Saturday morning shootaround, he was a no-go for the game at Houston.
Too bad, because he might've been the weapon Dallas needed to limit James Harden, the Thunder-turned-Rocket who scored 30 in the first half on the way to 39.
"We're going to have to have the posse ready to throw different guys at him,'' Mavs coach Rick Carlisle had said about checking Harden, who was OKC's stellar sixth man until a CBA-related trade pushed him to Houston, where he is the Rockets' No. 1 option.
Well, a Trix-less Dallas couldn't stop Harden.
So O.J. Mayo opted to outscore him.
"What he is showing over the first 20 games is that he has the ability to carry a team at times, and it was really impressive tonight," Carlisle said of Mayo, who totaled 40 points on 15-of-26 shooting, with 6-of-9 from the arc, eight rebounds, three assists and two steals.
The Mavs built a 19-point first-half lead but saw it dwindle to the point that the Rockets led by 11 three minutes into the final quarter. But Mayo's season-high 40 -- featuring a signature 3-pointer to beat the shot clock with 38.4 seconds left and then a coast-to-coast layup following a Houston make -- ended the Rockets six-game winning streak at home and extended Dallas' winning streak against the Rockets to eight games. (You can vote on "The Dirkie,'' the official Mavs fan selection for Player of the Game, here.
Mayo is the first Mavs not named "Dirk'' to score 40 in a game since Roddy B did it on March 27, 2010. Mayo's eight rebounds are also a season-best, and his fourth-quarter line, which includes 10 points in the final three minutes? A dazzling 16 points on 6-of-9 shooting, with 2-of-2 from the arc and three rebounds.
Mayo got help from a gutsy effort by center Chris Kaman, who scored 20 in 19 minutes while playing on an ankle that Carlisle described as "purple.'' Vince Carter and Darren Collison had 12 apiece.
"Kaman showed a lot of guts even being out there," Carlisle said. "He went out there and gave us everything he had. He's obviously struggling laterally, but to put up the scoring numbers that he did is phenomenal. It's proves a lot to the team."
The Mavericks' offense generally struggles on the road. But here, they made 15 of their first 19 shots, shooting 68 percent in the first quarter. The pace was part of that; these are the Nos. 1 and 2 uptempo teams in the NBA.
But Mayo -- the reason Dallas is staying afloat (at 10-10) while waiting for Dirk Nowitzki's hoped-for holidays-week return -- was the definitive force here. Without Marion, the Mavs' "posse'' wasn't enough to corral Harden.
But fortunately for Dallas, O.J. Mayo was even less "corral-able.''