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3 things we observed as the Rockets outlast the Mavericks, 128-121.

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Dallas’ comeback attempts falls short thanks to Houston’s three-point barrage.

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

In the first game without Luka Doncic, the Mavericks and Rick Carlisle got funky, trotting out an unusual lineup that saw J.J. Barea, Ryan Broekhoff, Tim Hardaway Jr., Dorian Finney-Smith and Kristaps Porzingis all share the floor for the first time this season. Despite a solid effort, the Mavericks couldn’t get over the hump in a 128-121 loss in Houston against the Rockets.

Houston played small and were able to blitz Dallas from deep, connecting on 8-of-14 from behind the arc in the first quarter to take a 35-28 lead after one. The second frame was a quarter of runs. After the Mavericks got within two points, the Rockets took off on a 10-0 run. Dallas responded with an 11-2 flurry, only to be answered by Houston with a 9-2 run. While the Rockets benefitted tremendously from 12 triples in the first half (on only 23 attempts), the Mavericks received 17 points and seven rebounds from Kristaps Porzingis to keep the team within striking distance. After two the Rockets took a 65-60 lead into the half.

Houston continued to push the pace out of the break racing out to a 10-3 run and stretched the lead to as big as 15 points with about seven minutes left in the quarter. Russell Westbrook was particularly dominant recording 16 points and four assists.

The Mavericks made things interesting in the fourth quarter as Seth Curry and the rest of the Dallas bench came alive. Down, at one point, by 16, the Mavericks cut the lead to three and knocked on the door consistently in the fourth. However the Rockets answered each time, and James Harden put the nail in the coffin scoring 14 points in the quarter including some back-breaking triples after the Mavericks clawed their way back. Led by Westbrook’s 32 points, nine assists and six rebounds and Harden’s 35 points, 16 rebounds, six assists and four steals, the Rockets were able to outlast the Mavericks and hand Dallas their first division loss, 128-121.

Houston shot the doors off the gym

In a battle of the league’s top three-point shooting teams (in terms of makes and volume) it stood to reason that whichever team owned the three-point line would win the game. But the Rockets took that to new heights and bested the Mavericks, shooting 21-of-45 (compared to 14-of-36 for Dallas) from behind the arc.

Dallas deployed a strategy they found success with earlier in the year, forcing the ball out James Harden’s hands and tempting the Houston role players to win the game. But that’s exactly what happened as Eric Gordon, Ben McLemore and Danuel House Jr. combined for 44 points. And when Houston wasn’t firing from deep, Westbrook was relentlessly attacking the paint. Houston took the looks Dallas gave them and knocked them down. It was a tip your hat and move on kind of evening.

KP without Luka is becoming a thing

In the four December games Doncic missed with the ankle injury, Porzingis’ play jumped to another level averaging 23 points and 14 rebounds while shooting 37 percent from three. My brow furrowed at that line at the time, but my eye brows are officially raised after Porzingis recorded 35 points and 12 rebounds while shooting 12-of-20 from the field.

Some of this is pretty clear: Doncic dominates the ball and Porzingis’ looks and opportunities are significantly fewer, but he looks natural running as the first option (sustainability is an entirely different question). I was initially worried about this matchup considering the Rockets were playing extremely small, and Porzingis has struggled all year to punish smaller defenders. But he gave himself easy chances around the rim and shot fewer threes (four to be exact) in exchange for 13 free-throw attempts.

Tim MacMahon tweeted an interesting Elias stat which illuminates an encouraging development from Porzingis who took advantage of the small defenders:

With Doncic out for at least the next five games, we’ll get a good look at Porzingis as the first option.

The Mavericks were uncharacteristically sloppy

Averaging 12.1 turnovers per game (second fewest in the league) the Mavericks’ committed far too many miscues slamming the door shut on a potential comeback victory. Other than Maxi Kleber, every Maverick turned the ball over for a total of 17 giveaways which the Rockets turned into 14 points. After cutting the lead to three at 107-104 with 6:53 left, Dallas proceeded to shoot an ill-advised triple (which was blocked). The ensuing two possessions resulted in Delon Wright and Hardaway Jr. turnovers in immensely meaningful minutes of the game. With the Rockets shooting lights out from deep, the Mavericks needed to capitalize on each possession but failed to do so.

Dallas will need to bounce back quickly as Trae Young and the Atlanta Hawks visit the American Airlines Center Saturday night.

Here’s the postgame podcast, Mavs Moneyball After Dark. If you can’t see the embed below “More from Mavs Moneyball”, click here. And if you haven’t yet, subscribe by searching “Mavs Moneyball podcast” into your favorite podcast app.