(Photo by Danny Bollinger/NBAE via Getty Images)
Earl K. Sneed recaps the Dallas Mavericks' home win over division rival Houston on Wednesday night as the defending champs used a big second half from Dirk Nowitzki to move one victory away from a playoff berth.
Recap: Rockets 110 at Mavericks 117
DALLAS — For the defending NBA champion Dallas Mavericks, Wednesday night not only represented the conclusion of their season series with Southwest Division rival Houston, it also potentially meant the start of a four-game track back to the playoffs in defense of their title.
Returning home from a 2-2 road trip, the Mavericks not only looked to sweep the three-game series against the Rockets but also to widen the 1 ½ games that separated the two teams for seventh and ninth place in the Western Conference playoff race entering the night. And with just four games remaining to secure a return to the postseason, the Dallas team hoped to treat its hometown fans to a show with a seventh straight win over the cross-state foe while extending the Rockets’ four-game losing skid.
Fortunately for the Mavs, the team welcomed back third-year guard Rodrigue Beaubois to the lineup after he missed the team’s back-to-back overtime losses to the Los Angeles Lakers and Utah Jazz on Sunday and Monday. And with a dominating 31-point second half coming from leading scorer Dirk Nowitzki to accompany a season-high scoring output by newcomer Vince Carter, the Mavericks (35-28) moved one step closer to securing a playoff spot after a 117-110 victory.
“I thought we competed great in L.A. and Utah and easily a couple of bounces and we could have come home 4-0 from that trip,” Nowitzki said after the win. “We come back 2-2, which was a little disappointing. We knew we were coming back home and the home crowd would carry us through, and I thought in the second half we had some great possessions.”
The Mavs would run into some early adversity, however, as Rockets guard Courtney Lee connected on back-to-back shots from behind the 3-point line to give his team the early edge in the opening period. But with Houston committing seven turnovers in the period and Carter coming off the bench to score 10 straight Dallas points, the Mavericks entered the second stanza tied with the Rockets at 27-all.
“[Carter] just had a really strong disposition at both ends of the floor. He was attacking on offense. Defensively, he was putting his body on people and he was rebounding. He’s a tremendous all-around player. His passing ability is something that’s frequently overlooked, because he’s a highflyer and scorer. We’ve needed him the last couple of games for spacing, and we need his all-around ability,” Mavericks coach Rick Carlisle said of the new addition.
With sixth man Jason Terry moving ahead of Chauncey Billups (1,783) for fourth on the NBA’s all-time 3-pointers list, the star reserve was just beginning his assault on the Houston defense.
Like Carter before him, Terry would quickly move into double figures. But Chase Budinger would connect on back-to-back threes to give Houston a slight edge, before Goran Dragic also gave the Dallas defense fits from long range.
However, the Mavs would settle down behind their floor general as point guard Jason Kidd caught fire from behind the arc. And behind Kidd’s three triples, the Mavs battled back to tie the Rockets (32-30) at 55-all entering the halftime break.
“I really didn’t get involved much there in the first half. I was a step slow and the guys kept us in the game,” Nowitzki explained after totaling just four points on 2-of-7 shooting. “I thought JET [Terry] was phenomenal in the first half and we were able to hang around and J-Kidd got hot there and made three threes to end the second quarter.”
Led by 12 points from Terry and 10 from Carter off the bench on a combined 7-of-15 shooting, the Mavericks slightly outshot the Rockets through two quarters, 51.2 percent to 50 percent. Both teams also lit the nets on fire from deep, with the Rockets hitting 7-of-14 from behind the arc compared to 5-of-11 for the Mavs.
After a relatively pedestrian first half by his standards following a 40-point performance in Utah, Nowitzki began the third period with an assertive mindset.
“In the second half, I got some good looks in transition, and with the pick-and-roll, I was able to get in the lane. We were spotting up our shooters and there was a lot of wide-open looks. If we get in the lane and move the ball and look for the open guy, then I think that is a fun way to play,” Nowitzki added.
But Luis Scola would have his way inside against the heart of the Mavs’ defense. The Rockets then increased their advantage to as much as nine before a big rebound by backup big man Brandan Wright and jumper with .2 on the clock trimmed the Mavs’ deficit to 84-78 entering the fourth.
After scores by Terry and Carter got the Mavs on the board to start the fourth, Nowitzki lent a helping hand with back-to-back threes to bring the home team within two. Back-to-back threes by Terry and Carter then boosted the Mavs to a 20-8 run and a 96-92 lead, forcing the Rockets to call timeout to regroup with 6:55 remaining.
A hard fall by Terry after a foul by Patrick Patterson briefly quieted the crowd. But the veteran guard stayed in the game, missing on a driving layup before Carter’s thunderous dunk-tip reignited the Dallas faithful. A cutting three-point play by Nowitzki then lifted the Mavs to a 102-94 advantage with 4:05 left, providing all the extra padding the team would need the rest of the way thanks to a scrambling defensive stand.
Nowitzki then tried to put the game away with clutch shots at the free throw line before another three by Kidd in the final minutes. But after a four-point play by Kyle Lowry over Terry made it a 111-107 score with 55.5 left, it took another cutting score by Nowitzki to keep the Rockets at bay. The 7-footer then successfully closed the book on the visitors from the south at the charity stripe while upping his scoring total.
Scoring 21 points in the fourth quarter, Nowitzki finished the night with 35 on 10-of-18 shooting, 3-of-4 from three and 12-for-12 at the foul line.
“Hey, he was phenomenal,” Carter said of Nowitzki’s performance. “He’s playing with a lot of confidence and I think for our team, when he has a lot of guys occupying our positions and letting him go one-one-one, he’s second to none and one of the toughest to guard one-on-one. He’s impossible to guard, because he can pump fake you and get to the free throw line or pump fake you and pull up and shoot or just shoot right over you.”
Carter added 23 points and Terry registered 19 points off the bench. Kidd and Delonte West made it five Mavericks in double figures with 12 points and 11 points, respectively.
“Tonight, we had some guys really step up. Carter played his most important game of the season for us — real aggressive, good things at both ends. Our three centers all participated and were key to the effort. Very hard game. These games against these guys [the Rockets] have all been extremely difficult. We’ve got a lot of respect for them. They keep coming at you. But we really needed the win and our guys weren’t going to let it go,” Carlisle said.
Dragic led seven Rockets in double figures with 20 points to go along with 10 assists. But the Mavericks finished the game outshooting the Rockets, 51.9 percent to 50 percent, despite getting outrebounded, 42-40.
Both teams committed 12 turnovers in the game. But the Mavs overcame the Rockets’ 38-34 edge in points in the paint, 17-12 second-chance points margin and 22-7 separation in fast-break points.
With the win, the Mavs can now secure a playoff berth on Friday night when they host the Golden State Warriors.
The two teams split both meetings in Oakland this season with the season series tied 1-1. The game will air locally on Fox Sports Southwest at 7:30 p.m. CT. Tickets are still available and can be purchased by calling (214) 747-MAVS.
“I think we’re down to one game. If we win Friday, we’re in,” Carlisle acknowledged. “We understand things and we talked about it this morning. This game was really pivotal in so many ways, because it’s a double-count game on the whole magic number thing, and it effectively takes one team out of it, which is big. We’ve got three more important games to go and they’re all meaningful.”
“We just have to keep finding a way to get the win,” Carter added. “We’re trying to solidify a spot in the playoffs and you can see it in the huddle. Everyone is focused and ready to take it to the end.”
Single-game tickets for the first two Mavs home games of the first round of the playoffs are now on sale. Tickets are available online at mavs.com, via phone (214-747-6287 or 1-800-4NBA-TIX) or at the American Airlines Center north box Office. Ticket prices start at $12 and up and there is a four-ticket limit per game.
Dates and times for the first two games have not been announced but will be posted on mavs.com by April 27th.