First Impressions: Mavs 111, Rockets 104

Dirk Nowitzki admitted he dreaded the idea of his Mavs entering a Christmas break on a three-game losing streak. No surprise, then, that The UberMan was so pivotal in a Monday 111-104 win at Houston in which he scored 31, passed Alex English for 13th in all-time NBA scoring, and helped anchor a 15-1 run to start the second half that keyed a notable win. First Impressions:

The Dallas Mavericks now go into the Christmas break with a 16-12 record with a chance to get some rest, a chance to avoid coach Rick Carlisle's dreaded "holiday distractions'' and a chance to gear up for a much-anticipated Thursday showdown with the visiting Spurs.

But first, some celebrating the events of Monday, a 111-104 win against a good Houston team (18-11) featuring the challenge of Dwight Howard.

He was a force, with 29 points and 15 rebounds. But he was without the injured James Harden (ankle), an absence that helped the Mavs win their second game against Houston in three tries.

Sure, Dallas struggles to come up with Dwight answers. But Sam Dalembert - back in the starting lineup for the first time since Dec. 3 -- fared well enough, with eight points, seven rebounds and three steals in 29 minutes.

Meanwhile, Houston struggles with Nowitzki, too. He moved up the NBA's all-time scoring list (No. 12 John Havlicek is next on his list) in part thanks to 10 fourth-quarter points.

But it was the way that Dirk and his teammates started the third that really triggered the win.

Winning third quarters is not necessarily the Mavs' forte. But here, they earned a lead of 10 by outscoring Houston by 15 in the quarter. A 36-21 edge in the third? It happened with a 15-1 run to launch that second half (in total a 17-1 run bridging intermission) and with Dirk in the middle of the run with seven of those points.
"He's the great Dirk Nowitzki,'' Carlisle said. "He's one of the great players in the history of the game."

There were numerous other notables. Monta Ellis survived a bad shooting night to score 18 points with five rebounds and five assists. Jae Crowder seems to like playing in the Toyota Center and he had 11. Vince Carter also came off the bench for 6-of-8 shooting and 16 points. B-Wright took a turn against Dwight and lived to tell the tale. And Jose Calderon ran the offense with 6-of-12 shooting for 15 points with five assists.

(A lot of contributors there. So ... Who Deserves "The Dirkie''? Mavs fans vote here!)

During that eight minutes-plus, the Mavs basically ran a good Rockets team out of its own gym. And it does not appear that Houston coach Kevin McHale enjoys examining that stat sheet.

"We tried a bunch of different stuff," McHale said. "We tried showing and coming back. We tried staying on there. We tried running at him. Nothing seemed to work."

A two-game losing streak snapped. A jump in the standings to where Dallas now owns the No. 7 spot in the West. A rivalry victory. And another milestone gained.

"It's a fun little accomplishment,'' said Dirk of passing English, noting that when he was a "skinny little 19-year-old'' such a thing was unimaginable. "But I think the win is more important for me tonight."

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