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Game Day: Rockets vs. Mavericks

Analysis and observations from the Mavericks' 111-104 win over Houston

Rockets vs. Mavericks - 12/23/2013

HOUSTON - Analysis and observations from before, during and after Houston’s Monday night matchup with the Dallas Mavericks:

POSTGAME

Dwight Howard was dominant once again. He put up huge numbers and bullied the bevy of bigs Dallas threw his way Monday night.

Down the stretch, however, Dirk Nowitzki was even better. No matter the strategy Houston employed, the Mavs' superstar stood ready with a seemingly unstoppable counter. His entire arsenal of step-backs, fadeaways and one-footed, off-balance jumpers was on display. And when the dust settled and the clock struck zero, Dallas had rallied past the Rockets once again while holding on for a 111-104 victory.

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“We tried a bunch of different stuff," lamented Houston Head Coach Kevin McHale. "We tried showing and coming back. We tried staying on there. We tried running at him. Nothing seemed to work.”

Yet while Nowitzki's reprisal of his Rockets killer routine was indeed fatal, the Mavs inflicted some of their most severe wounds long before crunch time. Dallas' third quarter blitz to begin the second half was particularly painful for Houston, aided as it was by the Rockets' own mishaps and mental miscues. In a mere matter of minutes, Houston's series of head scratching mistakes helped to unleash the floodgates of the Mavericks' high-powered attack, allowing Dallas to seize control and take full advantage of a shorthanded Rockets team that simply could not deliver the steady stream of stops necessary to mount a comeback of its own.

"I just think our defense wasn't where it needed to be tonight," a solemn Howard said after the game. "We allowed them to get a lot of open 3s and we've got to figure out how to give Dirk some different looks.

"Everything is just communication. They beat us tonight, plain and simple."

OBSERVATIONS

- One of the bigger questions facing the Rockets tonight as they rolled out a new starting lineup due to the injuries of James Harden and Patrick Beverley: How would Houston’s coaching staff choose to handle Monta Ellis? Dallas’ exceedingly flammable shooting guard was a major thorn in the Rockets’ side the last time these two teams met and his quicksilver first step makes him a constant threat to penetrate and create havoc with his myriad forays to the hoop.

Houston’s response was to hand the assignment to Chandler Parsons and he performed admirably in the first half, helping to hold Ellis to a mere four points on 0-of-4 shooting to go along with three turnovers. Parsons, meanwhile, produced his usual excellence on the offensive end, scoring 11 first half points and pitching in with four rebounds. What’s more, his hustle on this play led to Jeremy Lin’s ‘welcome back!’ moment that culminated in a baseline jam.

- As discussed in the preview section (simply scroll down if you missed it) and Saturday’s story, Dwight Howard has absolutely devoured opponents who have chosen to defend him one-on-one without sending help his way when he receives the ball. That’s precisely what he did the last time these two teams met, so it was rather surprising to see Dallas once again play him straight up for much of the evening. Predictably, the seven-time All-Star put up another monster stat line including a team-high 29 points and 15 rebounds. And when Brandan Wright was tasked with blocking out Howard, simply throwing the ball anywhere at or near the rim seemed a sound offensive strategy. Howard was simply too big, too strong and too athletic to be kept at bay by Wright or any of the other Mavs' bigs for that matter -- a huge reason why Houston ended the night with a 60-32 advantage in paint points. 

Credit where credit is due, however: With the game on the line, the Mavs’ scheme experienced a shift in effectiveness, as Howard was held to just three points in the fourth quarter.

- Dallas began its comeback by kick starting the third quarter with a 15-1 run fueled by some sketchy offensive decision making, a bevy of Rockets’ turnovers and a slew of missed assignments in transition that led to several wide-open 3-point makes for the Mavs. Far too often, Dallas would push the ball following a live-ball turnover, collapse the defense, and then find trailing shooters all by their lonesome. The end result was one long-range splash after another, rapidly wiping out all of the good work Houston had done while building its first half lead. 

The frequency with which Houston had been able to easily get to the rim for the vast majority of the evening made their early third period offensive woes all the more perplexing. For some reason, that pivotal stretch saw the Rockets too often settle for outside jumpers when they weren't busy turning the ball over. Unfortunately for Houston, that momentary lethargy gave the Mavericks the boost they needed to completely seize control of the contest.

"The first quarter we were getting everything we wanted," Parsons said when asked about the noticeable shift in the Rockets' attack to start the third quarter. "Whatever works we've got to stick with that and we didn't do that in the third quarter and, on the other end, they were hitting everything so it's a bad combo."

- In the wake of Dallas’ opening salvo to begin the third period, the Rockets found themselves in need of a break and they received a big one in the form of a Jose Calderon foul on Lin while Houston’s point guard was following through on his shot from beyond the arc. Lin of course got three free throws as a result, but more importantly it forced Calderon to the bench early with his fourth foul. Calderon came into the game shooting nearly 49 percent from 3-point land and was 3-of-6 from downtown at the time of his exit so needless to say getting him off the floor had the potential to be a major boon for the Rockets.

- No such rally ever really materialized, however. Houston threatened on several occasions only to see its comeback attempts buried beneath a wave of Dallas 3-pointers. The Mavs drained 8-of-15 from downtown during their second half blitz. Jae Crowder, mentioned as a potential x-factor in today's preview, went 3-of-5 from deep tonight. Vince Carter was instrumental as well, scoring 16 points off the bench. Combined, the pair went 10-of-15 from the field, including 5-of-8 from 3-point range. Neither, however, was as big as …

- Dirk Nowitzki. Naturally. The future Hall of Famer owned the final frame, starring as he so often does as the center of the Mavs’ offensive universe. Nowitzki repeatedly found himself in favorable matchups on that end of the floor and he made the Rockets pay time and time again by either scoring or finding the open man when Houston sent help that was consistently a beat late -- a recurring theme for much of the second half.

"We just felt like if he takes a turnaround over his shoulder and it's contested, we'll live with that," said Jeremy Lin when asked about his team's defensive strategy on Nowitzki down the stretch. "But he's a great player who makes tough, tough shots."

And-1s: Pat Beverley underwent successful surgery today to repair a fracture in his right hand. He is expected to miss 4-6 weeks while recovering from the procedure.

NOTES AND QUOTES

HOUSTON ROCKETS COACH KEVIN McHALE

(On defense against Dirk Nowitzki) “We tried a bunch of different stuff. We tried showing and coming back. We tried staying on there. We tried running at him. Nothing seemed to work.”

(On team's play) “We had a bad start to the 3rd quarter. Too many live ball turnovers. They (Dallas) got up and ran. They got a lot of turnovers. They got a bunch of momentum. We kind of fought back but we could never kind of get it back under control after that.”

(On the Mavericks run in the 3rd quarter) “We had a stretch that we weren't very good and we missed some shots and they made shots. They made three or four 3's during that run. They got separation that they needed and we couldn't come back.”

(On the play of the Rockets' guards) “Aaron (Brooks) and Jeremy (Lin) attacked and tried to go at it. They (Dallas) run a lot of pick and rolls and we got switched up a couple of times. We tried to do a lot of different things to just try to catch them off rhythm and we couldn't get Dirk off rhythm. For the most part, we had Monta Ellis at least controlled. He ended up with 18 (points) but he ended up going to the line. He shot ten from the line. (Jae) Crowder made three 3's on us. Vince (Carter) made a couple of big 3's and they started getting some rhythm and we couldn't stop them there for a while. Tough game.”

CHANDLER PARSONS

(On defending Dirk Nowitzki) “When he gets going and he's making shots like that, he's tough to guard so we tried to go small and start switching things and then we started double teaming and then guys like (Monta) Ellis and (Jae) Crowder stepped up and hit shots. They are a tough team to guard when they are hitting shots like that. You can't allow them to go on runs like they did in the 3rd quarter.”

(On the Mavericks success offensively in the 2nd half) “We definitely didn't give up but that just gave them so much momentum. They just caught fire. I don't know what they shot in the second half from the field but they had a big 3rd quarter and they just caught momentum and kept making shots from then on. There's not much you can do when you're scrambling and double teaming Dirk (Nowitzki) and the other guys are stepping up and hitting shots. They played very well.”

JEREMY LIN

(On he felt in his first game back after injury) “I felt alright, the second half a little bit better than the first. I definitely can't complain in terms of how my body felt in my first game back.”

(On whether or not timing and rhythm was a problem for him) “Yeah, a little bit here and there.  I felt like every pass I threw was deflected. I just got to keep playing and keep trying to make the passes and do better.”

DWIGHT HOWARD

(On the 2nd half) “They hit a lot of tough shots tonight, especially in the second half. They shot great the whole game. When a team is shooting that good they are tough to beat but it's the NBA. We've got to get ready for the next game. (We have) to figure out what we did wrong and try to correct it.”

(On if Dirk Nowitzki was the sole problem) “I don't think it was just Dirk. It was the whole team. Monta (Ellis) was hitting 3's. (Jae) Crowder came into the game and hit a few 3's. He hit some big shots. They just played out there.”

(On lack of depth for the Rockets) “We can't use that as an excuse. It is five-on-five so we're not going to make that excuse.”

AARON BROOKS

(On what wrong in the 3rd quarter) “(There were) too many turnovers. We got off to a bad start and they hit shots and got a momentum going.”

(On defensive mismatch) “That's all Dirk. Any person guarding Dirk is a difficult match-up. He is one of the best players. That shot is hard to get to. With that said, it is hard to get physical with Dirk when you've got fouls like that but he made some tough shots. The ones he missed he got fouled and that's the way it goes.”

DALLAS MAVERICKS COACH RICK CARLISLE

(On what they did differently in the third quarter) “We had a disappointing first half and at halftime we just talked about hanging in. We were very fortunate just to be down seven (points) and we felt like with defense in front of us in the second half, we can help the guys a little bit and felt like if we just hung in, we could give ourselves a shot and then we started getting some shots and the ball was going in the basket and we got some momentum. A lot of guys stepped up. (Samuel) Dalembert had a great game, defensively he made it tough on Dwight (Howard). (Jae) Crowder was big off the bench and Carter played well off the bench. I thought Ellis had a really rough first half, wasn’t getting any calls but he hung in there and kept attacking and in the second half he was a huge factor. Nowitzki was great all night.”

(On defending Houston’s 3-point attack) “I figured if we could keep them under ten threes, we would have a chance. I think they made five in the first half and two in the second. Second half, our defense was a lot better, more active and we were more engaged. This time of year you get close to Christmas, your attention can wane if you don’t really stick with it. Second half, our guys stuck together and made it happen. That was a huge win for us. To go back to four above (.500) instead of two.”

(On Dirk Nowitzki’s play and passing Alex English on all time scoring list) “He is the great Dirk Nowitzki. He’s one of the great players in the history of the game and he’s passing these guys left and right and he’s going to pass Havlicek in a few days. The guy has changed the game with the way he plays. The game is not the same. A seven foot one guy comes in the league and does what he does, it’s changed the power forward position forever and it reflects the modern game now.”

DIRK NOWITZKI

(On the third quarter turnaround) “Our shooters really opened things up. Jose (Calderon) is shooting 50% from three all season long and I thought Jae (Crowder) came in and made some big threes, Vince (Carter) was on fire. I think Houston was a little hesitant to leave our shooters out there and I just tried to take advantage when they played with a smaller guy. That’s what I’ve been trying to do my whole career is to back them down and hit them with a fade away. This was a big win for us. We have two days off before Christmas and we didn’t want to sit on a three game losing streak, so I’m glad we got out of there with a win.”

(On his play) “I felt like, against Toronto, I wasn’t good down the stretch and I pride myself on being a pretty good fourth quarter player and trying to make the players for us to win and I missed my last couple of shots. Phoenix was a tough back to back for us after an overtime loss. We really wanted to have this one and I felt good this morning at shoot around and I wanted to carry it over. I’m happy we got this win.”

(On passing Alex English on the scoring list) “It’s amazing. Coming from Germany when I was 19, a skinny little German. I don’t think anybody would’ve thought that I would pass Alex English one day for number 13 all-time in scoring, so it’s been a great ride. Alex was an unbelievable player in this league, so it was a tremendous honor, but I’m actually more happy with this win.”

MONTA ELLIS

(On the second half turnaround) “Really we just brought more energy. We got defensive stops and got out and ran like we should and we made shots.”

(On defending the Rockets 3-point shooting) “That was one of our main things, just keeping them from making three’s. Dwight had the ball a lot under the basket and we mixed it up, so they really didn’t know what we were going to do on the kick outs. We just played overall great team defense.”

(On the win) “This was a must win for us. We had to get back on track to feeling good again after two devastating losses. We figured like weren’t playing our type basketball, within our system. Tonight we came in with a great game plan. Second half we came out with a lot of energy attacked the basket and we made shots.”

JOSE CALDERON

(On the win) “This was a big win for us. We’ve been struggling the last couple of games. We couldn’t get into our rhythm the way we’ve been playing for the whole season, so this was a big win with two days before Christmas. To go home with a win was really important for us.”

(On his 3-point shooting after not scoring the last game in Houston) “That happens sometimes that you shoot better in other games. Sometimes, the ball is going to go in and sometimes it’s not. I don’t worry about that. I helped the team today, and that’s what’s important.”

NOTES

Houston registered its largest crowd of the season at 18,328 tonight, giving the Rockets 14 sellouts on the season.

The Rockets dropped a 111-104 decision to the Mavericks tonight, snapping a three-game home winning streak.

The Mavericks have now reached at least .500 from the field, .500 from downtown and .840 from the free throw line in each of the last two meetings with the Rockets (.583 FG, .500 3FG and .848 FT on 11/20/13). Dallas stands as the only team to reach those totals against Houston this season.

Houston finished 38-of-70 (.543) from the field, but only 7-of-19 (.368) from beyond the arc. The Rockets had made 10-plus 3-pointers in each of the prior seven regular season meetings with Dallas (4/18/12-11/20/13).

The Rockets went 23-of-37 (.622) from the floor in the first half tonight. Houston also went 26-of-38 (.684) in the opening half at Dallas (11/20/13). Two of the three times the Rockets have shot .600 or better in the first half of a game this season have now come against the Mavericks.

Houston netted another 60 points in the paint tonight. The Rockets have now scored at least 60 in the paint in three of the last four games.

Dallas used a 13-0 run to outscore Houston by a 36-21 count in the third quarter.

Dwight Howard posted 29 points (10-16 FG, 9-13 FT) and 15 rebounds tonight. Howard has now posted a double-double in nine of his last 10 games.

Chandler Parsons finished with 21 points (8-15 FG) and five boards tonight. Parsons has now reached double-digit scoring in 24 of his 27 games played this season, including 11 outings of 20-plus points.

Jeremy Lin recorded 20 points (6-10 FG, 7-10 FT) in 36:51 of action tonight. Lin returned to the lineup tonight after missing the last four games (12/15/13-12/21/13) with back spasms.

Dirk Nowitzki led five Mavericks in double-figure scoring with 31 points (11-18 FG, 8-9 FT), six rebounds and two blocks. Nowitzki (25,629) tonight surpassed Alex English (25,613) for 13th place on the NBA’s all-time scoring list.

Monta Ellis scored 14 of his 18 points (4-16 FG, 8-10 FT) in the second half of tonight’s game, helping to fuel Dallas’ second-half surge over Houston.

Jose Calderon totaled 15 points (6-12 FG, 3-7 3FG) and five assists tonight. Calderon has now scored 10-plus points in 18 of his last 20 games.

Vince Carter (6-8 FG, 2-3 3FG) and Jae Crowder (4-7 FG, 3-5 3FG) combined for 27 points off the bench on 10-of-15 (.667) shooting, including 5-of-8 (.625) from 3-point range.

PREVIEW

The Basics:

Dallas Mavericks (15-12) at Houston Rockets (18-10)

Point Differential:

Dallas: +1.2 (NBA rank: 12th)

Houston: +4.3 (NBA rank: 7th)

Offensive Rating (points per 100 possessions):

Dallas: 105.4 (8th)

Houston: 107.2 (3rd)

Defensive Rating (points allowed per 100 possessions):

Dallas: 104.4 (21st)

Houston: 101.3 (9th)

Pace (number of possessions per 48 minutes):

Dallas: 97.73 (9th)

Houston: 98.58 (6th)

Four Factors:

Shooting – Effective field goal percentage (eFG% is a field goal percentage that’s adjusted for made 3-pointers being 1.5 times more valuable than a 2-point shot):

Dallas: 51.4% (9th)

Houston: 53.4% (3rd)

Turnovers – Turnover ratio (the number of turnovers a team averages per 100 possessions):

Dallas: 15.0 (8th)

Houston: 17.64 (t-29th)

Rebounding – Rebound percentage (the percentage of total rebounds obtained)

Dallas: 48.2% (26th); offensive rebound rate: 23.8% (24th); defensive rebound rate: 72.5% (26th)

Houston: 52.4% (2nd); offensive rebound rate: 27.5% (9th); defensive rebound rate: 73.7% (18th)

Free Throws – Free throw rate (the rate at which a team goes to the line relative to the number of field goals it attempts):

Dallas: .239 (28th)

Houston: .395 (1st)

Know Thy Enemy

- It surely comes as no surprise whatsoever to hear that Dallas is at its best when Dirk Nowitzki is on the floor. The Mavs’ offense performs at a level roughly equal to that of the Rockets’ top-3 unit whenever he’s on the court, but then plummets to Wizards-esque depths when he’s on the bench getting a breather.

What one might find surprising, however, is to learn that Dallas’ best two-man pairing to this point in the season has not been Dirk and Monta Ellis or even Dirk and Shawn Marion, but rather the Nowitzki-Jae Crowder combo. The Mavs are +110 during the 309 minutes that Crowder and Nowitzki have shared the floor this season, boasting an offensive rating of 105.4 and a defensive mark of 89.5 during that time. In fact, Dallas has generally produced very positive results when the second-year forward from Marquette is in action. His per game numbers (5.8 points, 2.9 rebounds) don't leap off the page, but his net rating when he plays (+10 per 100 possessions) certainly does as it’s currently the highest on the team. That may be nothing more than random, early-season noise based on a sample size that’s perhaps still too small. But at the very least, it warrants further monitoring.

- Monta Ellis has played some of the most efficient basketball of his career this season in Dallas, and there’s no denying his recent credentials as a Rockets killer (recall, if you care to, his logic-defying buzzer-beater last year with the Bucks, and his 37-point explosion that helped rally Dallas past Houston last month). He is capable of putting an immense amount of pressure on the opposition’s perimeter defense with his lightning quick first step which in large part explains why he leads the entire league both in terms of individual points per game on drives to the basket (8.6) and the points his team generates (13.6) via his forays to the hoop. The Rockets will have a newish starting backcourt tonight (please see injury updates below) and they’ll undoubtedly have their hands full attempting to stay in front of Ellis and steering him clear of the most dangerous parts of the floor where he is capable of inflicting serious damage.

- Speaking of Rockets killers of recent vintage: Beware Brandan Wright. The sixth-year forward has played a huge role in a handful of devastating Houston losses during his tenure with Dallas and, after missing the Mavs’ first 23 games of the season, he enters tonight’s game on a serious roll. Wright has only played in four games so far, but two of them have seen him produce 19 points – once while shooting 9-of-10 from the floor while he hit 8 of his 10 field goal attempts in the other. With his long, rangy athleticism, Wright can finish at the rim at an elite level and cause problems at the other end of the floor with his ability to rapdily show and recover on pick-and-rolls. Expect him to play a significant role in Dallas’ game plan tonight.

- It’s no secret that the Mavs’ Achilles heel is their defense. Rim protection has been a season-long issue, as seen by the fact that Dallas ranks in the league’s bottom-five in terms of opponent field goal percentage (62.9 percent) within the restricted area. Transition defense has also been a bugaboo for the Mavs, who ranks 20th on a points per possession basis according to Synergy Sports, and they reside in the bottom-five in terms of fast break points allowed per game (16.2) as well.

In the spotlight

Dwight Howard has been nothing short of dominant during the month of December, averaging more than 21 points, 14 rebounds and two blocks per game to go along with a field goal percentage hovering around the neighborhood of 62 percent. What’s more, the last time he met the Mavericks – in the game that shall not otherwise be named – Howard hit 12 of his 16 shots en route to racking up 33 points. The Mavs eschewed sending double-team help that night, choosing instead to defend the 7-time All-Star one-on-one. Several other squads (most notably Portland and Detroit) have tried that tactic this season while yielding similar results. Don’t be surprised, then, to see Dallas switch up its strategy for how it hopes to handle Howard this evening.

Injury Update

Jeremy Lin confirmed this morning that he will return to action tonight after missing Houston’s past four games due to a back injury. He will start at point guard in place of the injured Pat Beverley who is out with a fractured bone in his right hand. The other member of Houston’s starting backcourt, James Harden, will also miss today’s game due to a sprained ankle. Expect Francisco Garcia to get the nod in place of Harden for the second consecutive game. Omer Asik (thigh/knee) and Greg Smith (knee) are out as well.

All stats courtesy of NBA.com except where otherwise noted.