Already losers of three straight games to their rivals in Houston, the Dallas Mavericks came into Tuesday night’s contest against the Rockets on the second night of a back-to-back, with another back-to-back on the West Coast in their near future, and in between with … well, some “fight,’’ at least.
With Houston on a roll and the Mavs coming off a disappointing loss at New Orleans, it would be difficult for the Dallas to find its footing, despite receiving a boost from a returning Andrew Bogut, as the Mavs were blown out by the Rockets, 123-107, in a temper-flaring festival.
“We came up against a real juggernaut of a team,’’ Mavs coach Rick Carlisle said. “It was not a good result. We didn’t play particularly well, we kept scraping and kept fighting, and I like that. We just gotta continue to do that.”
It was an extremely chippy get-together on Tuesday, with both teams receiving multiple technical and flagrant fouls, as well as an ejection in the game (of Houston’s Trevor Ariza). It’s unsurprising that these two teams were playing with high aggression against one another, considering this was already the fourth time they have faced off. In a typical year, these matchups would have been spaced out over a span of five to six months, but thanks to the geniuses over in the NBA’s scheduling department, these four matchups were all sandwiched in just before the New Year. … and maybe that meant both teams were sick of being cooped up with one another.
“I don’t know what that was,’’ Wesley Matthews said. “It wasn’t even basketball. Tempers between two in-state teams that play each other four times. We have had two and a half close games and battles in the past. It is what it is. But we have to be better than that. There was opportunity for us to channel it into basketball and we didn’t do that.”
Countered James Harden: "That other team was trippin' tonight, just disrespectful, unprofessional, players and coaches. I don't know what was their problem, but I think that got us going. They wanted to throw a little cheap shot and just woke us up a little bit and it was over from there."
The Rockets — who wanted a piece of Salah Mejri after the game in such a way that security worked to prevent opposing players from encountering each other outside the locker rooms — have had the Mavs’ number all year long, mainly due to the absurd offensive firepower that they possess, as well as the Mavs inability to control the glass against them.
The Rockets completely dominated the boards in three of the four meetings between these two teams, and Tuesday night was no different, as Houston finished with a 48-38 advantage. That effort was led by Sam Dekker, of all people, who finished the game with nine points and 11 boards.
But the real star of the game for the Rockets was of course Harden, who continued his traditional dismantling of Maverick defenders by pouring in 34 points and 11 dimes on 9-of-16 shooting, while going his usual 12-for-12 from the line. Harden has been a challenge for the Mavs to cover all year long, as he came into the game averaging 24 points and 10.3 assists, and Tuesday was no different. Even the Mavs’ best overall defender, Matthews, was totally outclassed in trying chase hot-knife-through-butter Harden.
Ryan Anderson supplemented Harden’s scoring outburst with 22 points of his own, 12 of which came from beyond the arc.
After a nice comeback by the Mavs in the first frame, it looked as though Dallas might be able to keep pace with Houston. However, the wheels fell off for Dallas the second, with the Rockets outscoring them 35-16 and essentially slamming the door on any hope for the home team before the AAC crowd.
Matthews and Harrison Barnes did what they could on offense to keep their team in it, but just couldn’t keep up with the scoring barrage of the Rockets. Barnes scored 21 points on 7-of-16 from the floor, while Wes added 19 of his on 54-percent shooting. Seth Curry got off to a hot start, and had yet another game scoring in double-digits, but it would not be enough.
With Dirk Nowitzki still on the minutes restriction, he was only able to contribute seven points in 15 minutes, shooting 2-of-8 from the field, adding to the Mavs offensive woes.
Bogut, who made his return after missing almost the entire month of December, was largely ineffective on the offensive end, scoring zero points on no field-goal attempts, with two assists. He did record two blocks and six rebounds, and his presence was felt on glass, as well as on the defense end of the floor, but as he was only out there for 11 minutes, this effect was ultimately insignificant. ... though his hard screen on Harden (and Harden's reaction) typified the night.
Finally, newly signed point guard Pierre Jackson, who was called up from the Texas Legends to replace Jonathan Gibson on Tuesday, (see the scoop here) saw his first action as a Maverick in garbage time, scoring seven points in just 11 minutes. If the Mavs are lucky, he will learn the system quickly, and be able to provide some scoring punch off of an otherwise spotty bench that is still missing J.J. Barea.
The game highlights, feistiness included ...
Following this loss, the 9-23 Mavs will pack up and travel back out West to play a back-to-back against the Lakers and Warriors, which will make four games in five nights for an already struggling roster. The Lakers, while not exactly a juggernaut, are one of the youngest and most athletic talented teams in the NBA, which is sure to cause problems for the Mavs, who are quite the opposite. As for the Warriors, well … we already know what they are capable of.