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3 observations after the Dallas Mavericks outlast the Houston Rockets, 116-106

Dallas improves to 2-1 on the season

Houston Rockets v Dallas Mavericks Photo by Ron Jenkins/Getty Images

The Dallas Mavericks won their first home game of the season, defeating the Houston Rockets 116-106. Luka Doncic led all Dallas players with 26 points, 14 rebounds, seven assists, a pair of steals, and a block. Eric Gordon came off the bench for Houston to score 22 in defeat.

Dallas opened with the same starting line up seen in the previous two games but played a decidedly different brand of offensive basketball in the opening quarter. With Luka Doncic running more spread pick and rolls, Dallas had a number of good looks early but couldn’t hold onto an early lead. Doncic himself missed three layups on one possession right at the rim. Midway through the quarter Boban Marjanovic provided a spark off the bench and the Mavericks finally managed to tie the Rockets at 22 each with around two minutes left in the quarter. The Rockets posted a quick 8-0 run to retake the lead, but a Maxi Kleber three pulled Dallas within four points. Houston led 31-27 after twelve minutes of action.

Kristaps Porzingis quickly tied the game at 31 up with his first made basket of the game, but Dallas couldn’t stop Houston from beyond the arc. Jalen Brunson, Reggie Bullock, and Maxi Kleber kept the Mavericks close, with Bullock hitting a pair of threes and Kleber connecting three times from distance. Doncic re-entered the game midway through the quarter and gave the Mavericks their first lead since being up 4-2. But the lead wouldn’t hold as Dallas couldn’t buy a bucket and got very sloppy just before the end of the quarter, allowing Houston to score 10 points in the final 1:20 to give the Rockets a 60-57 halftime lead.

Things went belly up for the Rockets at the start of the third quarter. Between committing six turnovers and not scoring a single basket, they allowed the Mavericks to go on a 13-0 run that lasted nearly four minutes. But Gordon and David Nwaba wouldn’t let Houston fade and closed the lead back down to four. Moses Brown played his first minutes of the 2021-22 season and gave Dallas a shot of adrenaline, including a block leading to a run out where he got a dunk in transition. Frank Ntilikina also saw minutes and scored near the rim after Houston again cut the Dallas lead down to four. But the hard work from Dallas in the period was mostly for naught, with sloppy offensive play paired with Gordon willing the Rockets to baskets resulting in the Mavericks taking just a 91-88 lead into the final quarter.

We learned within moments of the start of the period that Porzingis would not return, as he presented with lower back tightness. Bullock and Boban paced Dallas during the opening minutes, with Dallas building up an 11 point lead at one point. Houston sliced the lead down to five with around eight minutes remaining, causing coach Jason Kidd to call a timeout. The game got grindy for several possessions with Houston repeatedly trying to close the gap and the Mavericks unable to extend their lead. Slowly but surely, Dallas worked down the clock as the Rockets couldn’t find the bottom of the basket. With time on their side, Luka Doncic and the Mavericks held on and walked away with their first home win of the season, 116-106.

Now, some thoughts

Positive regression is coming

Kristaps Porzingis is 13-of-43 from the field this season.

Dorian Finney-Smith is 2-of-14 from three in these first three games.

The point is, it’s a long season, we’ve seen both these players perform and given enough time, these shots are going to fall. Porzingis in particular has gotten the benefit some some very bad bounces and it’s heartening to see his defensive effort not impacted by his offense lagging behind.

Knowing how Porzingis seems to roll, I suspect the positive regression will happen all at once, with a crazy 35 point game on 7-of-10 from three with some awesome dunks. For Finney-Smith, it’s a little different. He’s been taking different shots this year and while he’s never been a volume guy, he needs to see one go down and I bet it opens things up for him.

The bench held the line

All fifteen Mavericks played! That was weird to see after what was essentially an 8.5 man rotation for the first two games. The 52 points from the Dallas bench were sorely needed as the Doncic-Porzingis combination was just 4-of-19 from the field in the first half. The aforementioned Marjanovic was huge, hitting all five of his shot attempts.

Jalen Brunson in particular continues to prove his worth (and the need for Dallas to keep him on the roster past this season) with really solid play. Though he’s normally the scorer, he distributed well tonight, tying his career high with 11 assists.

A key beneficiary of those Brunson passes was new addition Reggie Bullock, who made the case for more than the meager minutes he’s seen so far, connecting on 4-of-9 from three en route to 16 points. More Bullock please.

While we’re here: more Frank! Just more of everything really, let’s mix up the rotations and see what can get done.

How long will we see the same starting line up?

The discussion around Dwight Powell is the Dallas version of a forever war, with all of us having an opinion and none of us getting a say.

That said... I wonder how long they can keep playing the two big line up? Or at least the Powell-Porzingis line up. It didn’t look terrible tonight, but the Rockets are also going to be one of the worst teams in the league (though fun!). What I’d like to know is what both Kidd and the other Dallas players are seeing that we’re not. I don’t think there are too many dissenters in the “Powell shouldn’t start” discussion.

C’est la vie.

Here’s our lastest episode of Mavs Moneyball After Dark. If you’re unable to see the embed below, click here to be taken to the podcast directly. Or go to your favorite podcast app and search Mavs Moneyball Podcast.