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Dallas Mavericks 111, Houston Rockets 104 – Experience matters

The Houston Rockets are a good basketball team. They have a real shot at winning it all in the next handful of years, and might make some noise in the playoffs if they can find some chemistry. The Dallas Mavericks are on the wrong side of their superstar’s career, with Dirk Nowitzki hoping to get one last shot before he retires. The Rockets are more talented, younger, faster, and better constructed. But they never had a chance when the Mavs came to Houston.

For the second time in two meetings, the Dallas Mavericks came from behind to swat aside the Houston Rockets and punish them for their poor team defense. When Dirk is locked in, he’s as unstoppable as a shooter can be. Mavs head coach Rick Carlisle is as crafty as they come, putting his players in the best position to use their skills. All the talent and analytics in the world don’t matter when the other coach has your number. And make no mistake, the Mavs have Houston’s number.

It should be noted that the Rockets are missing a lot of quality players. James Harden is nursing his ankle injury, hoping to play against the San Antonio Spurs on Christmas day. Ömer Aşık continues to sit, officially still dealing with a thigh injury. Patrick Beverley just had successful surgery on his broken hand, and will sit for 4-6 more weeks. Greg Smith is back out of the lineup again, and so three starter-quality players and a solid backup sit on the bench for Houston. That’s a reason for tonight’s poor showing, but it isn’t an excuse.

The Rockets led by as many 11 points, heading into the half with a seven point lead.  It was all for naught, as Carlisle’s adjustments made mincemeat of head coach Kevin McHale’s Rockets. The Mavs went to Dirk early and often in the second half, and punished the Rockets on their defensive scrambles. As the game was coming to a close and the Rockets crawled to within 6 points, Dallas executed the Rockets with a single plan. The Mavs used a high pick and roll to switch Dirk onto Houston’s point guards. Over. And over. And he just kept scoring. Even when Francisco Garcia was on Nowitzki, he had no hope of stopping a man who anchored a championship team in 2011.

On the other side of the ball, the Mavericks disrupted Dwight Howard in the post, though it wasn’t as big of a factor as the other end of the court. Howard was picked clean and shown various coverages, just as Rahat Huq predicted. Howard still had another solid night, ending withy, that wasn’t enough to offse a team-high 29 points on 16 shots, hitting 9 of his 13 free throws adn pulling down 15 boards. Unfortunatelt Dirk’s massive 31 points on 11-18 shooting. Howard looks like the best player on the team now, and he’s the main reason why the Rockets have a real shot at pulling into true contender status with another roster move or two.

Jeremy Lin returned from injury looking good, putting up 20 points on 6-10 shooting. he only picked up 2 assists and he offset it all with 5 turnovers, but for a first game back after missing several games, that’s not a terrible performance. He’s still willing and able to key the offense, even if he does go up in the air without a plan and turn the ball over. Chandler Parsons also showed signs of life, picking up 21 points on 8-15 shooting and racking up 5 rebounds in the process. His 4 turnovers also didn’t help, but his contribution was positive. His offensive game continues to improve, and he’s part of more and more alley-oop passes.

The whole team is on board with lobs now, and there were a number of them scattered throughout the game. As the Rockets learn each other’s tendencies and preferred spots, this option will continue to be more valuable. Another added benefit of more coherent lob plays would be a chunk cut out of that grisly turnover number. The Rockets committed 17 on the night, and it was just about an average night for them. The turnovers have been the subject of endless debate, and will continue to be so until they get it under control.

Aaron Brooks was the sole high point from the (three-man) bench, scoring 18 points on 7-13 shooting. He had 5 assists and shot 4-7 from deep, and almost pulled Houston back from the brink late in the game. He’s playing above what we thought was his ceiling, and it’s not clear if he’s bound to fall off soon, or if he’s simply better than we supposed.

With much of the starters out, the Rockets looked weak on the bench. McHale had no answer for Carlisle’s schemes, and chose to go away from Terrence Jones late, despite Jones’ solid 5-8 shooting. Jeremy Lin was getting into shape, the entire bench was decimated and ineffective, and the Mavs attacked a team that needed to prepare for a major game on Christmas. Even with all those factors, this was a game Houston needed, one that would have prevented the Mavericks from taking the season series. Now, they’re one step farther from their goal of contention. Experience is important, even in December.

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