It's a good thing there were no other big sports stories out of the DFW area tonight, as I'm sure this Mavericks win will be tomorrow's headline.
A vintage performance from Dirk Nowitzki, who finished with 31 points on 11-18 shooting. He helped ignite a second half surge that created a lead as high as 15 for Dallas, and then helped the Mavs close it out when Houston made a late run. Dallas continued to feed Dirk the ball, who hit nearly every shot he took in the second half and probably got the benefit of a "superstar call" or two.
Monta Ellis also hit key free throws down the stretch, and had 14 of his 18 points in the second half. It came on a rough shooting night, as he went just 4-16 from field.
The Rockets played tonight's game without James Harden(and others), but they did receive 29 points and 15 rebounds from Dwight Howard, who even hit 9-13 from the free throw line. It wasn't enough, as Houston falls to 18-11. Dallas is now 16-12.
Dallas started a little slow, with the first being their lowest scoring quarter. They started to get hot in the next quarter, and were absolutely blazing to start the second half. They finished at a little over 50% on the night, and exactly 50%(11-22) from three, which was the not-so-secret weapon tonight.
Houston technically outshot the Mavericks, as the home team converted 54% of their attempts. They also made more free throws, out-rebounded Dallas, and nearly doubled their points in the paint, at 60-32. However, Dallas was able to limit Houston's possessions by grabbing more offensive boards(and keeping the overall rebounding margin surprisingly small, given where the two teams rank for the season), and winning the turnover battle 11-17. Also, even though Houston did finish with the better field goal percentage, the Mavs superior three-point and free-throw shooting meant they scored more per made shot than the Rockets.
As mentioned, Dallas held a lead as high as 15, after Dirk hit a tough jumper to make the score 99-84 with just under 8 minutes left in the game. Unfortunately, as has been a disturbing custom for the Mavs lately, Dallas let their opponent erase a big lead in the second half. Over the next four minutes, a 13-4 spurt for Houston cut the margin to six. Dirk would respond with a pair of big baskets, and then Monta Ellis would hit all four of his freebies in the final minute and redeem what was an off-shooting night.
- Lineup tinkering watch: Samuel Dalembert started against the Houston DwightHowards. He played 29 minutes, his most PT in over a month, in what was his first start in more than half that span. DeJuan Blair, who had started nine in a row, did not play, and is not injured, to my knowledge. With respect to Blair, who certainly hasn't been bad, I think this was a great move. Dalembert didn't set the world on fire, finishing with 8 points and 7 rebounds(which seems to be his statline whether he plays 30 minutes or 13 minutes), and Dwight Howard did get his, but Dalembert's size is an asset. He made Dwight work for his baskets, and he did his part to help out on the boards.
- Having Dalembert in there to wear Dwight down even slightly makes Brandan Wright all the more effective off the bench, as something kind of like the relief ace out of the bullpen. Wright finished +9 with his usual brand of hyper-efficient play. With Asik neither traded nor playing, Houston had no real backup center, and Dwight had to play 41 minutes. I'm guessing that's more than the coaching staff would prefer to play him.
- Wright wasn't the only contributor off Rick Carlisle's bench. Good Jae Crowder made 3-5 from three and finished with 11. Good Vince Carter had his best game of the month, with 16 points on 6-8 shooting.
- Lineup tinkering watch, part deux: Gal Mekel got his most playing time in December off the bench, and for the first time in two weeks Shane Larkin didn't see the floor at all. Mekel continued to shoot often, but when he wakes up tomorrow his field goal percentage for the season will stand at 37%. Right now the backup point guard options for Dallas are not encouraging. Please come back soon, Devin Harris.
- Dirk Nowitzki finished +17. I know he looks awkward and pale and not terribly athletic, but Dallas so far this year is allowing 7 fewer points per 100 possessions with Dirk on the floor. It's yet another season where Dirk's team plays significantly better defense with him than without him, and too many to consider it a fluke or accident. Dirk's length, smarts, and quick hands make him an unorthodox but effective defender. He's definitely not All-Defense worthy, but I would contest the narrative that he can't play D. Oh, and he's really, really good at the other end.