The Dallas Mavericks had a good quarter, the second one, where they outscored the Houston Rockets 29-14 to take an eight-point lead into halftime. Their first quarter, though outscored by seven, was good, too, with the Rockets (particularly Trevor Ariza) mostly just making challenged looks, which happens from time to time in the NBA. But then there was the second half, and if you're looking for answers to why the Mavericks lost 115-104 to the Rockets on Sunday afternoon, they all lie in those 24 minutes.
At one point towards the end of the fourth quarter, Houston was on a 49-19 run. Despite strong performances from Salah Mejri, starting because Zaza Pachulia sat out with leg soreness, and Chandler Parsons, in his best game yet against his former team, Dallas allowed Houston to get their way offensively while not scoring enough themselves to keep up. Rick Carlisle matched small ball for small ball, which is an issue we'll dive into below, but after three quarters of matching Houston blow for blow, the Mavericks' transition defense slipped and their offense couldn't overcome too many instances where they had to start possessions inbounding from their own baseline.
The Mavericks have been on the road constantly without any meaningful rest, which may explain the fourth quarter. By the end of it, Dallas certainly looked ready to go home, even with a California double header looming in the middle of this week. Houston is jockeying for higher playoff positioning and this game puts them just one back of Dallas, so no excuses, no matter how viable they may be, can soften this one.
Hey, does Salah Mejri actually have something?
With Pachulia out, Mejri started and ended up being the only center to get minutes for the Mavericks, as JaVale McGee never left the bench. Dwight Howard was missing for the Rockets, too, leading to massive amounts of Rockets small ball. Mejri isn't a high flier, but he moves well while defending the pick-and-roll and is more versed to defend someone on the perimeter than McGee might be. He finished with his first career double-double, with 10 points, 11 rebounds and three blocks on 4-of-6 shooting.
Still, it also seemed like Mejri was constantly hitting the ground, and he had a few turnovers where the athleticism of the NBA surprised him. I don't completely know what to make of him, because if Zaza Pachulia is still your starter -- and he is -- then McGee theoretically still fits that backup role better than Mejri. I don't see him dropping out of the rotation just yet, though, and his presence on Sunday was a nice surprise.
Et tu, Chandler Parsons?
After leaving Houston in such a way that aggravated that city (for reasons I still don't fully understand, seeing how they told him to take that contract), Parsons finally busted out against his former team. Let's admire the restraint he was able to show on Saturday night back with his old pals in H-town, knowing it was an early game up next. This is Parsons' best groove yet, as he continues a torrid stretch of shooting by dropping 31 points on just 15 shots, knocking down 5-of-6 from behind the line. He only had six rebounds and three assists, but his one turnover is nearly as significant.
It wasn't his best defensive showing and he seemingly forgot all defensive principles that have ever been taught to him on a couple possessions where the Mavericks switched to a zone, but that was the whole team, really. This Parsons is encouraging, as long as Dallas can figure out a way to bring it all together.
Small ball finally ends in death
Mejri played 29 minutes and he's 7-foot-1, but Carlisle also put Dirk Nowitzki and Dwight Powell at center rather than McGee. I understand why, given that J.B. Bickerstaff at one point went so small that Josh Smith was playing the 5. Think about it -- McGee has size, but how is he actually going to use that size to his advantage against smaller players other than an occasional offensive rebound? The Mavericks tried to feed Dirk with Harden and other smalls guarding him, but despite a decent shooting line (19 points on 7-of-13 shooting), it just wasn't his night. He looked a bit flustered and Houston did an incredible job attacking him constantly on the perimeter. By the fourth quarter, he looked worn out and straight up frustrated.
Pachulia's a polarizing figure for me, given that he really disrupts some of the key principles of what Dallas wants to do offensively by clogging up the paint like Interstate-35 at 5:30. But Dallas missed him and his ability to bat out rebound after rebound. Houston would have had no answer for him on the glass Monday without Howard, and that, in turn, would have helped slow down the Rockets' high-tempo offensive attack that the Mavericks sluggishly couldn't disrupt when Houston ran away with the game in the fourth.