The Dallas Mavericks hosted the Houston Rockets Wednesday night, in one of Dallas’ few nationally televised games this season. Two teams with two very different trajectories: the high-powered Houston offense with the second best record in the West, and the Mavericks with the second worst.
That disparity was on full display early in the game, with Houston setting the net on fire, starting 8/8 from the field and 6/6 from deep, eventually hitting 10 threes in the quarter. After a series of careless Dallas turnovers, Houston jumped out to a quick 20-7 lead. It took a series of scrappy Salah Mejri offensive boards, and a few Dennis Smith Jr. drives to cut it to a 10 point Houston lead after one.
For as hot as the Rockets were to start the game, they went just as cold to kick off the second - going an icy 1/11 from the field, allowing the Mavericks to cut the deficit. It took Dennis Smith Jr., who will appear in the Rising Stars Challenge (and unofficially the Slam Dunk Contest) on All-Star Weekend, some time to get comfortable in the game. He ended up finding his legs, and in what played out as a very 2018 Mavericks quarter, they held Houston to 13 second quarter points and managed to only trail by six at half.
At some point during the break the Houston Rockets remembered they aree a top three team in the league, and that the Mavericks could do little to slow them down. DSJ and Wesley Matthews both cooled off, and though Yogi Ferrell got going, Houston extended their lead to 18 heading in to the final frame.
The Mavericks had some spurts of activity to prevent the game from being a complete blowout - Matthews had a really nice night with 29 points (10/18 shooting, 7/14 from three) with 4 rebounds and 5 assists - but it wasn't enough. Dallas fell to 16-32 on the season, and Houston improved to 34-12, with a 104-97 final score.
Salah Mejri Showcase?
If you watched the ESPN broadcast you might have heard analyst Jeff Van Gundy make light of Salah Mejri's alter ego "The Mej". And while there is probably a valid point in there, Mejri did have a solid game.
Putting up 6 points and 10 rebounds in 15 minutes, Mejri was very active and engaged, particularly on the offensive glass where he grabbed six boards.
Outside of his shot blocking, this is the best of what Mejri brings. His name has been floated online by analysts and fans as a trade possibility before the deadline next month. If there's substance to that, this was the perfect game for the center to have against a good team.
The Barnes disappearing act
Early in the game, the Mavericks tried to get Harrison Barnes a mismatch down in the post with Chris Paul on him. He got a few decent looks, but not enough to return to it.
After that Barnes had long stretches in the game (like four or five minutes at a time) without a shot attempt. Yes, other players found their rhythm, but if Barnes is to be a cornerstone of this team, he can't be absent against elite competition.
Barnes is most comfortable offensively in isolation. And while that's a useful tool, it makes involving others more difficult. This is something Barnes and Carlisle need to find a solution for.
Many questions, few answers
It is fair to state that few teams are doing much to stop the Rockets. They are built as close to the prototypical present day NBA team, outside of the defending champs. Different than other teams trying to integrate elite talent, Houston's introduction of Chris Paul has been rather seamless.
The Mavs are simply too old and unathletic, too methodical, to keep up with a team like this. In what is perhaps the biggest reality check of a game like this, it wasn't that the Rockets were beating Dallas by doing things out of character. They simply killed them with crisp perimeter ball movement, and dynamic three point shooting - and the Mavs couldn't rotate quick enough, or move them off their spots frequent enough to get them out of rhythm (save for the second quarter).
It's easy to write off games like these as a contender playing a rebuilder, but the truth is this might be closer to reality than some may be willing to admit.
Two-Way Maverick Johnathan Motley entered the game in garbage time, and put up 5 points, 3 rebounds in two minutes. Hopefully more to come. #FreeMot