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3 lessons from another Mavericks moral victory as they lose to the Rockets 93-92

A fourth quarter comeback bid falls short as the Mavericks can’t overcome a poor first quarter.

NBA: Dallas Mavericks at Houston Rockets Troy Taormina-USA TODAY Sports

Everybody knew if the Rockets were going to beat the Mavericks, it would come from the three point line or a James Harden free throw. Well, the Mavericks were able to fix their three point defense but Harden, who led the Rockets with 28, was able to close out the Mavericks with a final free throw with 0.1 seconds left in the game. The Mavericks are now 0-3.

The Rockets jumped to a 17 point lead by the middle of the 2nd on an early barrage of three pointers as the Mavericks failed to defend the three again. However, the Mavericks were able to cut the deficit to 10 at the half before rallying in the second half behind Wesley Matthews. Matthews, who has struggled on offense to start the season, led the Mavericks with 25 points and also helped harass Harden into 8 turnovers in a rugged 41 minutes.

This loss was a little tough to swallow. Maybe because we thought we were going to get Dirk and our expectations got confused (losing a tie game on the road with 0.1 seconds left without the best player is defendable). Maybe because even though the Mavericks have been losing, the losses haven’t felt that bad. After all, there's been an overtime game and Dirk's been out. We've had some nice moral victories like Harrison Barnes blossoming and JJ Barea still returning eternal roster value. Today, the moral victory broth started to taste a little light on substance as Mavs fell behind by double-digits early and never really threatened the Rockets until the fourth quarter. Beyond that, it seemed as if the team wasn't quite in sync, whether it was a couple sloppy turnovers from Bogut, or some jerky offensive sets, it felt like the Mavericks were never really threatening the Rockets. Then, when the Mavericks rallied in the 4th, they were stilted by a 1/2 James Harden free throw line appearance.

Yes, yes, the season is only three games old and Dirk has missed two of the three but joining the Magic, Pelicans and Suns at 0-3 doesn’t feel quite good. Still, let's see what to make of this game.

The starters are still carrying the load

The Mavericks’ bench will continue to go through some growing pains while Devin Harris is out. It will be magnified if Dirk is out. Seeing JJ Barea quarterback a Powell-Mejri-Curry-Anderson lineup for extended stretches reveals how precarious the starting vets and youth bench mix Dallas is working through right now. Carlisle probably thought about keeping Barea in the starting lineup but realized that the bench needed his floor leadership. It might make sense to keep Barea there while Devin Harris is hurt.

Barea still led the bench with 18 points but Salah Mejri had a strong showing in his first extended appearance of the year. Mejri played 17 minutes to get six points, six rebounds, two blocks and generally annoyed and confused the Rockets with his energy and appearance. A -12 plus-minus is worth digging into but Mejri worked the boards, offered some rim protection and should have bought himself more rope with Carlisle.

FINALLY guarding the 3

In the first half, the Mavericks allowed the Rockets to shoot 8/17 (47%) from three. During halftime, every Maverick took turns writing “defend the three point line” on a chalk board 200 times. In the second half, the Mavericks held the Rockets to 3/14 (21%) from three. Maybe the Rockets went cold, maybe the Mavericks made adjustments and maybe the chalk board writing thing worked. Maybe all three of these things happened. Nobody really knows. Either way, we now have proof opponents won’t always shoot 45%+ from three against the Mavericks.

Forcing the Rockets to find other ways to score allowed the Mavericks to come back into the game. The Mavericks would do well to remember to guard the threes in future games.

Putting it all together

The Mavericks are still missing Nowitzki, almost as much as Mike D’Antoni’s ex-mustache wants get back together with Mike D’Antoni’s face. However, the rest of the starting cast is taking turns stepping up. The opening game was Williams, the last game was Barnes and today it was Matthews. Bogut, despite a couple missed connections today, was strong on the boards yet again with 14 and led the team in plus-minus with a +12.

I know this moral victory sandwich is starting to taste a little too familiar but the Mavericks starters have now all proven their individual ability to impact a game. They are all capable of competing and giving the Mavericks a fighting chance every game. If they can get it all together, they'll start winning some games. Of course, adding Dirk will help.