Dallas runs away from Houston 123-104, as worries remain elsewhere

Joern Pollex - Bongarts/Getty Images

Dallas beats Houston minus ailing Dirk as questions loom about his health going forward

The Dallas Mavericks played a preseason game. They won 123-104, which is good. Unfortunately, most everyone is focused on Dirk Nowitzki's right knee, which was apparently bothering him enough still to keep him on the bench, quite possibly a good deal longer than tonight.

As we await news on that knee, we'll continue to focus on the positives, which were there in a game that saw Dallas put up lots of points and win by a comfortable margin.

Things didn't start too well, as Houston unveiled a breakneck speed offense and came out red hot from three. The Dallas perimeter defense was put to the test and seemed sluggish on rotations, a major culprit being O.J Mayo, who was lit up by Kevin Martin.

Dallas managed to claw back into the game, trailing by just one going into halftime. Vince Carter led a balanced attack with 11 points, and all 10 players who checked in(which included everyone except the rookies) had scored. However, in the second half, Dallas completely took over, thanks to a 24-2 run and the first great quarter we've seen from "Juice", who finished with 20 points for the game. Dallas generated several easy transition points off turnovers, giving the run and gun Rockets a taste of their own medicine.

Houston cut the Dallas lead to 7 at one point when Dallas put the rookies in, but when the fourth quarter started Jae Crowder decided to take the reigns. Crowder was scorching from outside(though strangely missed all five of his three throws), and clearly was not intimidated by his first exposure to a real NBA opponent, taking 15 shots in 15 minutes - yes, you read that right - and tying Mayo for a team-high 20. Dallas cruised to a 19 point victory, a clear stepping stone for a team that may now need to gel quickly more than ever.

Here are my observations for the individual players:

Darren Collison: Finished with 8 assists, and it seemed that a lot of them came on the fast break, where Collison clearly is most comfortable. In the half-court, he was less aggressive than we've seen the last few games, but did continue to show off a polished midrange game.

O.J Mayo: Mayo hits me as the ultra-streaky type, and when he's going well it's clear that he can fill it up. I did like that most of Mayo's attempts came either from three or from close to the basket, but there were a few forced jumpers and as I mentioned above his defensive recognition could still use improvement. One thing I will say is that he has impressed me with his passing out of the pick and roll, and I hope this can continue to progress as a halfcourt weapon.

Shawn Marion: A beneficiary of more than one Collison transition bucket, and these three will likely be off to the races a lot in the upcoming season. There's not much more we can say about Marion, who continues to play well at both ends and do his thing.

Elton Brand: Still trying to find his way a little with the rest of the offense, and he definitely seemed to have a little trouble with the up and down style Houston brought to the table. That being said, it's hard to complain about 10-8 in just 21 minutes, while I continue to be in love with the way Brand communicates on defense. On one particular play, you saw Dominique Jones try to recover on an opponent left open for a corner shot, and Elton Brand shouted "get your hand up!", a request DoJo quickly obliged.

Chris Kaman: Kaman wasn't quite as efficient on offense, but continued to do work on the glass, with 11 rebounds in 24 minutes. Kaman has a tendency to try and force in the issue in the post, and might be a bit of a ballstopper at times, but if Dirk ends up missing time his offense is going to be a huge need for this squad.

Vince Carter: Played a bit of smallball 4 with Jae Crowder, which I'm curious to see how often Carlisle goes to in the regular season. Carter's game doesn't always look too pretty, with slow-motion seeming drives to the hoop, and some out of control passes and shot attempts, but you look at the box score and the results seem pretty OK. After the way the next guy played, though, you wonder if Carter might not be taking valuable developmental minutes from other guys.

Jae Crowder: We all fell in love with Jae in the Summer League, but this was his coming out party for the preseason, as he hit threes, ran the floor, and had a terrific layup after snagging an errant shot attempt that was headed out of bounds. The energy level, the toughness, the confidence were all there, but the outside shooting, which was up and down at times at Marquette, could make him a rotation regular sooner rather than later. We hope that this wasn't a one game aberration but rather a sign of things to come.

Delonte West: A solid game, but the major news on him from this game seems to be that he's been suspended, which you should stay tuned to hear more.

Brandan Wright: Clearly fresher than last game and with a bit more spring in his step, Wright also showed off a pair of elbow range jumpers, which came as a surprise. I was looking to see who Wright played with tonight, as he came in alongside Kaman against Barcelona, but played mostly with Brand tonight. There was a time or two when Wright showed the same odd tendency he did last year to put the ball down for a dribble after catching a pass near the basket, delaying an attempt at what would seemingly be an easy make. Wright does look a little bulkier than last year, so we hope that he won't be quite as easily bullied by physical play now.

Dominique Jones: Pretty much same old story. Jones shows quality drive and dish instincts, and could have a real role as a third point guard if he could even occasionally make a jumpshot.

Dahntay Jones: Another guy who just seems to know how to play, Jones hit his only three, played tough defense, and made the right passes. It won't get him on many highlight reels but I'm wondering why this Jones hasn't been more a part of the rotation as yet in this preseason.

Bernard James: There are times where he kind of looks invisible, but sometimes a guy that doesn't embarrass himself is a good thing. Sarge had a few easy dunks, one nice hustle play that got him an offensive rebound, and held his own on defense against a team that has basically no low post threat whatsoever. Do I think Dallas needed to spend the 33rd pick on him? Maybe not, but he's here and at least he doesn't look totally overmatched.

Jared Cunningham: Cunningham got his longest burn of the season and seemed to maybe try to do a little too much, taking the ball to the basket several times with very few positive results. You have to admire the approach, however, and it is clear that his athleticism is for real. His one basket came on a nice jumper off a curl that seemed designed by Carlisle. After that and hitting a three against Barcelona last week, it's pretty clear his outside shooting is already ahead of DoJo's.

Stay tuned for more updates on Dirk, Delonte, and the next preseason game, Wednesday, against Phoenix.

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