After Dirk Nowitzki came up as a late scratch due to a stomach illness -- and maybe a sore Achilles, too -- the Dallas Mavericks were left scrambling to fill his spot for the second straight game in preparation for their matchup with the Houston Rockets on Sunday night. They'd talked at length about how to fix what was broken to avoid the weekend sweep (see Donuts) ... but The UberMan would need to be part of the fix, right?
Probably. But out of necessity, Dallas decided to tab Seth Curry as a first-teamer, marking his first start with the team to date. Despite missing their main man, the Mavs hung tough with their rivals from the south, thanks in large part to a season-high 25-point performance from Wes Matthews. .... clutch to the end on the offensive end.
Unfortunately for Dallas, the Rockets were able to eek out a close 93-92 victory on the strength of a controversial James Harden free throw with 0.1 seconds to go in regulation.
For the first time in this young season, new Mavs acquisition Harrison Barnes struggled to get going on the offensive end, as he finished with just 10 points on 3-11 shooting. (How'd he done previously? Check it out here: "Dirk Is A Pill, Barnes Is A Hunk Of Cookie Dough.'') Curry, also had a rough go of it, as he finished with a goose egg, after missing all three of his shot attempts.
For the third time in as many games, the Mavs were beat up inside, losing the battle on the boards by a 46-42 mark, and getting outscored in the paint 42-34. They also got shredded by Houston in transition, with the Rockets outdoing Dallas 15-4 in fast-break points. To put it simply, the Mavs, in the end, were outplayed in most every hustle category you could think of here.
“We’re up against it right now in a lot of ways, but no one is backing down from their will to compete,” coach Rick Carlisle. “We’ve just got to stay the course with this and just keep making small corrections. We’ve just got to find a way.”
Positivity might be that way. Indeed, despite losing those battles (and all three of these games), there were some good things to take away from Houston for the Mavs.
For starters, Andrew Bogut is finally looking comfortable on the glass, as he came away with his second-straight double-digit rebound performance with 14 boards. Obvious Rick Carlisle would love to get some more offensive production out of his new big man, but the Aussie's presence inside in the last two games has kept the Mavs from getting completely overwhelmed in that department.
Next, after trailing by as many as 17 points early, J.J. Barea and his 12 first-half points off the bench got the Mavs back within striking distance, cutting the Houston lead to just 10 heading into the break. Barea is now averaging 16.6 points-per-game off the bench for the Mavs, and has cemented himself as the Mavs go-to bench scorer.
The real story for the Mavs here, though, was the play of Matthews, and his aforementioned 25 points. Alongside Barea’s 18, Matthews was a central threat for the Mavs offensively in an otherwise dismal performance from too many of his mates. Also responsible for trying to check one of the most gifted offensive talents in the league in James Harden, Matthews had to be the do-it-all guy for the Dallas, and he did just about as well as could be asked of him.
Immediately following his clutch game-tying three with just 4.1 seconds to go in the game, Matthews had the unenviable task of defending Harden, and was charged with a foul as Harden drove to the rim, and the rest is history. How that clock stops with 0.1 left, and how Harden gets away with tugging Matthews’ jersey on the deciding play will be debated among MFFLs for a while, but the simple fact of the matter is, you just cannot let Harden get into the lane like that in a deciding moment.
Said Wes: "We got into a little hand tussle up top. I kind of figured the way the play was being drawn up that he was going to be coming with a head of steam, so I was trying to keep a body on him. But he made a good step-through play, and I tried to keep my hands up. … It was a bang-bang play and a tough position.”
Harden, frankly, is going to get that call 99 out of 100 times just by throwing his hands in the air; it's part of his game. And there is no way he is going to miss two free throws. There was some debate about the clock ... but 0.1 stuck.
All in all, this loss will sting for Dallas, which has now dropped its third consecutive game to begin the season, and a second-straight to their hated division rivals. They will have to get past it quickly enough, though, as they have a challenging matchup with the new-look Utah Jazz in Salt Lake City on Wednesday. By that time, the Mavs training staff should hopefully have the Big German patched up and ready to go ... and the team itself might grow from the emotional scaring of starting 0-3.
Wes, for his part, sounds fine.
"We've just got to minimize the things that we can control -- the end-of-quarter situations, over-rotating, over-helping,'' he said. "We're not the Golden State Warriors. We're not the Cleveland Cavaliers. We're not the Spurs. But we're a damn good team."