After a fun, exciting win against the Los Angeles Lakers Saturday night, the Mavericks traveled to Houston to take on the explosive Rockets. Last night, Rick Carlisle mentioned the idea of monitoring the vets minutes going forward, and it started immediately when he decided to sit veterans Dirk Nowitzki, Wesley Matthews and J.J. Barea.
The odds were heavily against the makeshift Mavericks against the Rockets riding a seven game win streak, but don’t tell Dallas that. Even thought the Mavericks shot about 37 percent in the first quarter, they did enough to hang around. They weathered a 10 point, six rebound quarter from soon-to-be very wealthy Clint Capela with an efficient two man game comprised of Dennis Smith Jr. and Dwight Powell. Powell led the Mavs with six after one, but the Rockets took a 27-19 lead.
Surprisingly, the Mavs were able to outscore the Rockets by six points in the second quarter largely because of a 50 percent shooting frame. The Rockets were only able to stretch the lead to as many as 10 points, but the Mavs were able to take advantage of James Harden, Chris Paul and Eric Gordon combining to shoot 2-of-14 from deep. Smith Jr. was able to push the pace and connect on a few pull-up jumpers. Powell remained active around the rim, catching a few more lobs from the promising rookie. And the Mavs received needed contributions from players like Kyle Collinsworth and Jalen Jones. Led by Smith Jr.’s 11 points, seven assists and four rebounds, the Rockets were only able to manage a 57-55 lead going into the half.
There were times in the third quarter when it looked like the Rockets would realize who they were playing. Like when Harden would continuously probe the defense and draw the foul to earn free throws. Or when Eric Gordon finally connected on his three-point attempts. But for much of the quarter, the Mavs were able to keep it within striking distance. However, toward the end of the quarter, the dam finally broke as the Rockets took an 87-75 lead, their largest of the game. Harden led the way with 22 points, six rebounds and five assists. Powell led the Mavs with 18 points and 11 rebounds.
The Rockets were able to stretch their lead to as many as 16 points in the fourth quarter, but the Mavs were able to trim it to single digits midway through the quarter on the back of Yogi Ferrell’s personal 7-0 run. But that was as close as the Mavs would get as Harden and Paul closed the door shut on any upset hopes the young Mavericks might have had going into the fourth. Harden ended up with 27 points, six rebounds and five assists, and Paul followed up with 25 points, eight rebounds and nine assists. Yogi Ferrell led the Mavs with 20 points, including 4-of-8 from deep. After this loss the Mavs fall to 18-39, while the Rockets move to 42-13.
Dwight Powell takes advantage
Powell might be in the midst of some of the best ball of his young career. In the previous four games, Powell was averaging 16 points and eight rebounds in about 30 minutes per game. Tonight, Powell continued his recent performance with 18 points and 12 rebounds in 29 minutes. He consistently slipped screens, was active around the rim (five offensive rebounds) and finished a multitude of lobs thrown his way. Tonight, tt was easy to see why Powell surpassed Nerlens Noel on the depth chart. He went 110 percent every second he was on the floor.
Dennis holds his own
Smith Jr. has faced some tough backcourts this season, but the Rockets tandem might be the best. Pick your poison: The leading MVP candidate or one of the best point guards in recent memory. Ultimately, Smith Jr.’s team fell, but he was a big reason why they were competitive up until the end of the third quarter. He scored 16 points, dished 11 assists and grabbed five rebounds. But maybe the most important part was that he elevated the play of the shorthanded Mavericks. Yeah, they were losing by double digits late, but the Mavs also played nine guys, five of which were undrafted. Dallas had no business being in this game, but Smith Jr. took another step forward in his promising career keeping his squad competitive.
The Mavs are most definitely tanking
No one in the organization will say it, but actions speak louder than words. Sure, the team will play hard, but after shipping Devin Harris on the trade deadline and sitting the vets tonight, it’s clear the Mavs are angling for a top pick. Just look at who came off the bench: Maxi Kleber, Jalen Jones, Kyle Collinsworth and Jonathan Motley. Nowitzki sat with a bum left ankle, Matthews had lower back tightness, and maybe the most egregious of them all, Barea sat because of “return from injury management”. That’s definitely the first time I’ve seen that one. There will be games like last night against the Lakers where the Mavs eek one out against the opposition, but tonight made it clear. The Mavs are aiming for the top pick in the draft.