Inside Report: Mavericks-Rockets recap — Peja provides punch, Mavs hold on in Houston
With highlight reel dunks and a season-high scoring night from new addition Peja Stojakovic, the Mavericks got back on track in Houston after a tough loss in Denver. Earl K. Sneed recaps the action.
HOUSTON — Mavericks coach Rick Carlisle knew his team’s objective coming into Saturday night’s matchup with the Houston Rockets.
In fact, the coach admitted that in order for his team to successfully rebound from a 121-120 defeat in Denver on Thursday night the Mavericks would have to first put the loss out of their minds, choosing instead to turn their attention to the upstart Rockets.
With that said, the Mavericks took the court at the Toyota Center hoping to rekindle their success after having a 10-game win streak snapped. The Mavs also went in search of a third victory over the Houston squad, after sneaking away from the American Airlines Center with two victories over the in-state rival earlier in the season.
“Play solid,” Carlisle simply said was the key to the game. “Move it, be efficient, set hard screens, getting back and contesting shots — no major secrets to it.”
The Mavericks (38-16) fulfilled their coach’s pre-game decree, playing solidly for 48 minutes and holding off a late Houston rally to get back in the win column with a 106-102 victory to conclude their three-game road trip.
“I’m happy with the win,” center Tyson Chandler said. “A lot of times a game like the one we lost in Denver is tough to bounce back from — such an emotional game, emotional loss. But we came out tonight and we were ready to play.”
But in a lackluster opening quarter for both teams that featured early foul trouble for Chandler, the Mavericks remained in the game through the offense of new addition Peja Stojakovic, who hit 3-of-4 from the floor in the period to score eight points.
“Tonight I got it going with some little easy ones,” Stojakovic said. “Tonight I was able to get in a rhythm and I was able to make them … It’s so much talent out there at the same time, and I’m trying to get involved in the offense without taking away from the guys that have been playing so good so far. Just trying to get myself involved in the offense, and any time you get a few easy ones I think you get a rhythm going.”
“He started to remind me of the guy I know,” Chandler said of his reunited teammate from their days in New Orleans.
Still, the Mavericks found themselves on the downside of a 25-23 margin after one period of play.
The Mavericks’ reserves lifted the team to a slight edge in the early stage of the second stanza, with backup big man Ian Mahinmi and guard J.J. Barea leading the charge. Then Dirk Nowitzki came to life after a 1-for-5 start, raining in back-to-back jumpers to keep the Rockets (25-30) behind on the scoreboard while the lead widened.
Dallas then sped up the tempo, sprinting to a double-digit lead off fast-break offense and Barea’s multiple feeds to Chandler and Shawn Marion for above-the-rim finishes.
“We’re moving the ball great. When we’re moving the ball like that, it makes our team a lot harder to play defense on. Tyson does a great job of finishing … ‘Trix [Marion] running the lane, and that’s what we’ve got to keep doing,” Barea said.
“Whenever you have an opportunity to make an emotional play like that, you can always get your team fired up,” Chandler said of the highlight reel dunks. “And at that point we were on a run and that boosts you up. It gets you going harder on both ends.”
The Mavericks then took a 57-44 advantage into the locker room with two quarters in the books after hitting 13 of their last 15 shots in the period.
Behind 12 points apiece for Chandler and Marion and 11 additional points from Stojakovic, the Mavericks not only outscored the Rockets in the first half but also outshot the home team, 61 percent to 43 percent. The Mavs also held a 40-26 edge in points in the paint at the midway point.
After his slow start, Nowitzki took control early in the third quarter, joining Stojakovic in his effort to torch the Houston defense from behind the 3-point line.
“A guy like Peja opens up space for everybody, Dirk included. So, look, it’s an asset for sure,” Carlisle said.
With ease the two sharpshooters shot the Mavericks to a lead as large as 23. And despite a brief Rockets’ spurt, the Mavs carried an 83-67 lead into the fourth.
“That was definitely fun to watch, especially in the third quarter,” Nowitzki said.
But the Rockets were not done, showing that they too can stroke the ball from long range and trimming the Mavs’ lead to just 10 three minutes into the final period. Shades of the Rockets’ last trip to Dallas — when the team turned a 25-point Mavericks’ lead to just a one-point edge — the home team battled to within three.
Still, the Mavericks remained poised, using a Nowitzki jumper and Jason Kidd’s transition score off Jason Terry’s steal and feed to increase the lead back to nine with 1:42 left. The Dallas defense then rose to the occasion, blanketing the Rockets’ shooters down the stretch to silence the run.
“Again, we didn’t finish the way we want to and we made it a lot closer than we needed to,” Nowitzki said. “Our defense was actually solid there all night, until they made all these threes in the fourth quarter. But they were under 40 percent shooting all night long.”
The Mavs managed to finish off the win despite Barea’s foul on Aaron Brooks’ 3-point attempt with 21.2 seconds left, which was followed by back-to-back threes by Kyle Lowry. Nowitzki then proceeded to knock down clutch free throws to finish off the night.
“Look, any win after a loss is good,” Carlisle said. “Again, we’ve got to be more solid with the basketball that last six minutes of the game tonight and not put ourselves in harm’s way. That’s something we’ll continue to study and look at, and I’ll continue to be on these guys about it.”
Nowitzki and Stojakovic finished sharing team-high honors with 22 points on a combined 16-of-28 shooting. Stojakovic also connected on 4-for-6 from behind the arc to reach his season-high scoring output.
“Like I said before, it’s easy to play with these guys. I get so many looks because they draw so much attention and I was able to make them,” Stojakovic simply said.
“He arrived and it was fun to see,” Nowitzki said of Stojakovic’s breakout night. Marion (14), Chandler (12), Kidd (11) and Barea (11) made it six Dallas scorers in double figures.
“That balance, I think, defines who we are,” Carlisle said. “We’ve got to have everybody ready.”
Lowry finished with a game-high 26 points, although the Mavericks outshot the Rockets, 55 percent to 41 percent. The Mavericks also connected on 8-of-15 from 3-point range, compared to Houston’s 11-of-29 shooting from deep.
Behind a 42-38 rebounding advantage, the Mavs also finished with a 52-46 edge in points in the paint, overcoming Houston’s 31-11 margin in second-chance points and a 19-13 disadvantage in fast-break points.
Now, the Mavericks get a chance to rest after two three-game road trips sandwiched just one home game. The Mavs won’t return to game action until Wednesday night, welcoming in a Sacramento Kings team that the Dallas squad managed to beat twice on the road by a combined four points.
The matchup is just the front end of a back-to-back that concludes with a trip to see the Phoenix Suns Thursday night before All-Star Weekend.
“Great team effort,” Nowitzki said after Saturday night’s win. “Good thing is we’ve got almost like a small All-Star break already. Three days off in the middle of the season doesn’t happen very often. So, we’re gonna recuperate. Have a big back-to-back and hopefully get them both, that would be nice. And then, hopefully, go on the break feeling good about ourselves and come back and make a heck of a run in the second half of the season.”
Note: The Mavs return to the American Airlines Center Wednesday, Feb. 16, to host the Sacramento Kings. That matchup will tip off at 7:30 p.m. CT, airing locally on Fox Sports Southwest. Great seats are still available and tickets can be purchased by visiting the American Airlines Center box office, logging on to Mavs.com or by calling 214-747-MAVS (6287).
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