GAME 51: Mavericks 90, Rockets 81


Rodrigue Beaubois and the Mavericks' bench helped lead Dallas to a crucial win over the rival Rockets on Tuesday.

WHO: Mavericks 90, Rockets 81

WHAT: Dallas simply has Houston’s number, and that’s not good when the Rockets are chasing the Mavs for homecourt advantage in the first round of the playoffs … if they even get there. Houston fell out of the playoff picture again Tuesday, falling back to 9th and a half-game back of the Denver Nuggets. Though that is sure to change before the Rockets’ next game Friday versus Memphis, another team they’re are gunning for as the Grizzlies are 1 1/2 games ahead of the Rockets for 6th in the West. The Mavs improved to 2-0 this season against the Rockets and now own the tiebreaker should it come to that. They also now have a two-game lead on Houston for 4th. They’ve won six in a row against Houston, and ultimately it comes down to this: The Mavericks are too rangy, too mobile and too deep for the Rockets. They also are well coached. Even with the Rockets leading 26-10 in the first half, the Mavericks took full control once they started playing smarter, which means, against Houston, attacking the paint, getting to the free throw line, and forcing the Rockets into a halfcourt game, where they are not nearly as strong as they are in transition. Houston is 27-24 overall, now 8-17 on the road and having split its last 10 games.

WHAT HAPPENED?: Even with a 16-point first half lead, I never felt the Rockets were safe. They tend to let teams back into games too nonchalantly; their defensive numbers prove as much. The Mavericks, not the Rockets, were to blame for Dallas’ early poor play. Dallas was intent on running the offense through Vince Carter, laughably seeing it as a mismatch against Courtney Lee, and turned the ball over too many times, allowing the Rockets transition opportunities. The Mavs’ bench spearheaded their turnaround in the second quarter, however, turning a 26-10 deficit into a 49-46 disadvantage thanks to reserve guard Roddy Beaubois and a newfound aggressiveness. Instead of settling for jumpers or fallaways, Dallas started attacking the rim and it paid off. They shot 12-of-15 on free throws in the first half. Houston? 2-for-3. The third quarter was not better. Sensing the kill, Dallas outscored Houston 23-12 in the third period, staying aggressive in the paint as its key figures awoke following their first-half slumber. And when Dirk Nowitzki, Jason Terry and, heck, even the much-scrutinized Lamar Odom started playing as if something was at stake (specifically homecourt advantage in the first round of the playoffs), Houston was in trouble. Beaubois had 14 points, 5 assists and 3 rebounds off the bench and single-handily turned the tide in the second quarter. Odom played relatively out of his mind, with 9 points, 4 rebounds and 3 assists in 21 minutes, and Nowitzki – in spite of 5-for-17 shooting – still had an impact by getting to the free throw line and making 11 of 12 from there. Dallas’ bench salvaged a pivotal game in favor of the Mavs, outscoring Houston’s reserves 48-17.

PATTERSON/LEE STRUGGLE: What kind of hold do the Mavs have on Courtney Lee and Patrick Patterson? Lee entered Tuesday’s game having missed 24 of his previous 30 shots against Dallas. He went 4-for-13 Tuesday, which can be sadly regarded as improvement. Patterson, coming off a career game of 24 points against the Kings Monday, went 1-for-7 in 20 minutes against the Mavs. This coming after Saturday’s outing versus Dallas in Houston, when he missed all seven of his field-goal attempts in 14 minutes.

DALEMBERT DISAPPOINTS: In a game in which backup Marcus Camby’s effectiveness was far from certain due to an ailing wrist, the Rockets needed a big game from Samuel Dalembert. Didn’t happen. In no foul trouble, Dalembert only played 16 minutes, missing his only shot from the field and recording little more than seven rebounds. Camby (4 points, 4 rebounds, 2 assists in 17 minutes) played better than expected with his injury, but it wasn’t enough as Dallas’ center tandem of Ian Mahinmi and Brendan Wright combined for 17 points and 10 rebounds, not great but more than enough to outdo Houston’s bigs.

WHAT DOES THIS MEAN?:I get the feeling the Rockets should be better than they are. There is talent on this team. The mistakes they make are ones often caused by their own actions, not by other teams. They panic when teams make runs. They can lose sight of the things that get them leads and advantages. Their defense should be better, which speaks to a team concept because individually they are strong with the likes of Samuel Dalembert, Chandler Parsons, Courtney Lee, Marcus Camby and Patrick Patterson. Their offense seems scattered, if without direction, and they have no go-to play, player, anything. They seem to just go by the flow of the game, and you can’t do that in this league. Some will say the absences of Kyle Lowry and Kevin Martin hurt, and I understand that as far as depth, but the Rockets are better off and more potent with Lowry not taking minutes away from the spectacular Goran Dragic and Martin being as far away from the team as possible. I think we can write off the Rockets getting homecourt advantage in the first round, should they make the playoffs. Right now they should be gunning for the seventh seed, because they have a better chance of advancing against the Spurs than they do against Oklahoma City. Either way they’re fixing to embark on absolutely brutal stretch: versus Memphis on Friday, versus Indiana Sunday, at Chicago Monday, at the Lakers next Friday, and at the apparently tough Sacramento Kings next Sunday.