1. Looking for their fifth straight win, the Mavs hosted the Houston Rockets on Wednesday, with both teams desperately needing a win to keep their playoff hopes alive. Thanks to a hefty amount of ‘Retro-Clutch’ from the Boys in Blue, the Mavs would ultimately outlast the Rockets, 88-86. With the win, Dallas moves a full two games ahead of Houston, and are a full game clear of Utah in the Western Conference Playoff race. Matt Galatzan and Mike Fisher break it down ...
“It was a blood-and-guts game, and we live to fight another day,” Mavs coach Rick Carlisle said, and yes, blood and guts and Retro-Clutch: Hustling on defense, shot-making when it counts, quick hands, 50-50-ball wins ... and being better than the Rockets. Retro-Clutch.
2. J.J. Barea has been instrumental in the Mavs success over their four game win streak, leading the Mavs in scoring over that time frame. During that period, Barea has averaged 23.5 points and 6.8 assists, while over 52 percent from the field. Needless to say, the Mavs would more than likely be lost without J.J. on the floor.
And here, by gosh, he did it again, in ways he and Dirk, in particular, used to do it. "Retro-Clutch,'' you might say. ...
3. The Mavs defense has really been on point lately. While, as Fish pointed out, some of that success can be to a deliberately slower pace, the emergence of Justin Anderson alongside Wes Matthews on the perimeter has also been a major factor in their improved defensive play. Anderson's success also gives the Mavs a semblance of hope for the future on a roster that doesn’t have much in the way of future potential in it’s current state.
Ah, but that pace ...
“It’s a style change,'' Carlisle said. "It’s a style of play that is characterized by sacrifice because when you take longer possessions on offense and commit to controlling the tempo of the game, you are going to have some more difficult shots. One of the reasons Dirk is having a hard time getting open looks (just 7 points here) is because we are playing a different style right now. I just addressed this with the team and we have to understand what all of this is. It has given us a strategy that can be effective and we are going to have to keep adjusting in the games here and there as it is happening.
"The important thing is getting us into a position to win and we have been able to do that. I am proud of our guys for being willing to be team guys and play this way.''
Unselfishness is retro-cool.
4. The first quarter was a bit of a struggle for the Mavs, who shot just 28.6 percent from the field, and trailed the Rockets 22-18 at the end of one. Yet again, the Mavs were led by J.J. Barea who scored seven points and handed out two assists. The Rockets meanwhile, were led by James Harden, who had six points, and was three of three from the line.
5. One thing no one can say about this year’s team, is that they didn’t fight for a playoff berth down the final stretch. The strength of schedule over the four-game win streak was nothing to write home about, but now it's "five'' and Dallas is leaving it all on the floor right now. Whether they ultimately make the playoffs or not, these guys will at least be able to end the season, knowing that they made a legitimate push at the end.
"Basketball Soul,'' you know. Retro stuff.
6. On the other side of things, the acquisition of Michael Beasley has paid big dividends for the Rockets. After spending the majority of the year with the Shandong Golden Stars in China, where he averaged 31.9 points and 13.4 rebounds in 40 games, Beasley came back across the Pacific and signed with the Rockets, where he has been a key contributor. A lot of people probably didn’t even realize that he was still in the league, but Beasley has found of home in Houston for now.
7. The Mavs exploded of the gate in the second quarter, outscoring Houston 34-22 on the way to a 52-44 halftime lead. After a rough start shooting, the Mavs increased their field goal percentage to 46.5-percent, and shot 46.7-percent from three. The Mavs also outrebounded the Rockets in the first half, by a 19-16 margin. Houston did outscore Dallas 26-18 in the paint, but were just two of eight from three. ??
8. As we wrote in our preview: The Rockets are one of the most dysfunctional franchises in the NBA right now. Since last years embarrassing Western Conference Finals, the Houston Rockets have been out of sorts, and are in danger of missing the playoffs all together. In just one year after making a deep playoff push, the Rockets began the season with three consecutive 20-point losses, fired their head coach, and their best player starting dating a Kardashian. The Rockets are performing well below expectations, so far below expectations that even their interim head coach has labeled them as “a broken team.” ... and yet, the talent is scary-good.
9. James Harden however, is still chugging along on the offensive end. Despite getting kicked to the curb by Khloe Kardashian, Harden is averaging 28.7 points and 7.5 assists on 43.5-percent shooting. In his last 12 matchups against the Mavs, Harden has only been held below 23 points one time (he scored 17). As a matter of fact, Harden has scored 26 points per and handed out 7.6 assists, while shooting an average of 9-10 from the free throw line. Suffice it to say, Harden loves playing against the Mavs right now. He especially loves playing them in Dallas, where he averages 28.2 points a game, as opposed to 24.7 points in front of his home crowd in Houston.
Harden's effort on D, of course, remains suspect.
10. Wes Matthews was a big factor for the Mavs, scoring 16 points and playing solid D throughout the contest. Wes was lucky enough to be be marked by Harden for most of the game who, as we all know, doesn’t really put much effort forth on the defensive end. On the other side of the floor, Matthews held Harden to 14 points through the first three quarters.
Oh, and at game's end, when Jet Terry intentionally missed a second free throw, it was Wes who wrestled with Jet to win a 50-50 loose ball and then Wes who went head-long into the front row to bat the ball downcourt, volleyball-style, to eat up the final ticks on the clock.
Combine that play with The Ironman's work on Harden and you've got something to put in a frame here.
“I was just trying to make it as difficult as possible for him,'' Wes said of guarding Harden. He’s a helluva scorer and a helluva player, but it was them or us.”
11. The Rockets got the better of the Mavs in the third quarter, outscoring Dallas 27-18, with the Mavs struggling to get much going in the way of offense. Dwight Howard woke up in the third, scoring 10 points and grabbing eight rebounds, while the Mavs were led by seven points from Wes Matthews. J.J. Barea meanwhile, was held scoreless in the quarter, as Houston led 71-70 heading into the final quarter.
12. J.J. Barea seemed to tweak his back late in the third quarter (shouting out "Casey!'' for help from trainer Smith) but was able to play through the pain for the rest of the game. The extent of J.J.’s injury is unclear at this point, but the Mavs can ill-afford to lose his scoring and the energy that he brings to the offense night in and night out, especially with Deron Williams still sidelined with an injury of his own.
13. The Mavs would ultimately hold on and survive the Rockets' final push, defeating their division rivals 88-86. It was another brilliant defensive showing from the Mavs, who have now held five straight opponents under 90 points. While people scoffed at the Mavs opponents over that stretch, the Rockets are one of the best scoring offenses in the league, and Dallas held them to 20 points below their season average here.
The Dirkie/Player of the game: J.J. Barea, again. This guy is unconscious right now. 26 points and eight assists on 10-16 shooting is starting to seem like just another night at the office for Barea. But this is a democracy, so head over to DB.com Boards and give us your choice for the Dirkie!
“It was vital,'' Carlisle said of JJB's work. "We had some other guy that had some struggling shot-making nights and my message to the guys is we have to stay persistent and keep going hard. Focus your attention on playing to exhausting and guarding your guy and play to your guy. The right number of shots are going to fall.”
Stat(s) of the night: Hack-a-Howard made the difference in this game. Dwight shot just four free throws, but missed all four of them, leading to a two-point Mavs victory.
On another note, most of the stats were so close that it was difficult to differentiate what turned the game. The Rockets edged the Mavs in rebounds 41-40, edged the Mavs 43 percent to 41 percent from the field, while both teams had 19 assists, four blocks and shot 30 percent from three.
But total these numbers up: Dallas forces 15 turnovers while allowing the Rockets to only hit 6-of-20 from the arc. That's a winning combo.
This game was over when... Dirk stripped James Harden of the ball, leading to two game-icing free throws from Devin Harris on the other end of the floor. The Rockets had a chance at the end, but were unable to convert.
Should have seen coming... James Harden in the fourth quarter. Harden had 26 points, including 12 in the fourth quarter. We said he loved playing in Dallas. Even when he struggles (which he did through three quarters) Harden always seems to end up with a good night in the AAC.
Couldn't see coming... Dirk with the defensive play at the end. At this stage of his career, maybe the last person you would expect to come up big on defense for the Mavs, made perhaps the biggest play of the night when he block-stripped Harden on the way to the basket with about five seconds left in the game. Even the most optimistic Mavs fan never would have seen this coming. Except ... it was a "retro-clutch'' move ... the sort of thing Dirk used to do. And because Dirk is Dirk, can still do.
“He comes so fast down the lane always, and I tried to strip him probably 100 times over the last couple of years,'' Dirk said. "He’s so smart getting that contact and he always gets to the line, so I was actually surprised that I got all ball. It was a good play, but he’s so good with his arms out at creating contact. You’ve got to be really careful with reaching, and it was a big play for us. I was able to get in there and strip the ball, and it was big.''
What's next?: More "big'' as the Mavs remain at the friendly confines of the American Airlines Center where they will host the struggling Memphis Grizzlies (42-36) at 7:30 on Friday in yet another huge game with playoff seeding at stake.