The NBA is a live-in-the-moment league, but sometimes you have to put the big picture ahead of any short-term needs.
As they put a lid on a torturous stretch of the schedule, the Mavericks finally had one of those games.
They made the tough, but correct, decision to sit Kristaps Porzingis in the fifth game in seven nights. And the rest of the team wasn’t particularly effective, either.
The Mavericks trailed throughout as the Houston Rockets pulled away late in the third quarter and coasted to a 133-108 victory at American Airlines Center.
It was the last night of five games in seven days for the Mavericks, who looked every bit like a team with heavy legs and very little left in the gas tank.
“We obviously didn’t play well. They played better,” coach Rick Carlisle said. “We had a decent run in the third quarter. I think we had a chance to tie the game, an open corner 3 that didn’t go down. And they were able to build the lead back up.
“No excuses. Rough week, but that’s a part of the NBA. Everybody’s going to go through it at some point. We didn’t play well enough. The energy was a factor. We were able to get it up in spurts. But we weren’t able to sustain it. They had more juice.”
Without Porzingis, the Mavericks were blitzed by old nemesis DeMarcus Cousins, who had a flashback to his Sacramento days and rolled up 28 points and 17 rebounds while hitting four of eight 3-pointers. Coming into the game, he was shooting just 23.7 percent from 3-point range this season.
“We should have done a better job keeping him off the boards,” said Trey Burke. “Coming in, we knew he was going to be a big factor for them with no (Victor) Oladipo. We knew he’d be more aggressive. We just got to be better at attention to details.”
The Rockets also got a season-best 33 points from Eric Gordon, who hit his first five 3-pointers to put Houston in control.
The Mavericks slipped back to 8-8 and finished their ridiculously busy week with a 2-3 record. They did not show a lot of life against the Rockets (6-9) until the third quarter. But when Houston outscored the Mavericks 13-2 in the final 2:45 of the third quarter, they were up 104-83 and the fourth quarter was rendered moot.
Luka Dončić had done as much as he could in the first half with 20 points, but he wasn’t getting a lot of help. He would finish with 26 points and eight assists and Boban Marjanović had one of his best statistical games of the season. But it wasn’t nearly enough.
So the Mavericks slipped to 2-3 at home. They are 6-5 on the road, although, as Burke pointed out, home and road seem to fade together these days.
“We’re conscious of it, for sure,” he said. “Right now, we’re a better road team. I don’t really have an answer for (why). There’s no fans, nowhere. So there’s really no excuse.”
Meanwhile, the Porzingis decision garnered much attention.
He had not missed a game since returning from offseason knee surgery since returning on Jan. 13. In his last four games, Porzingis had at least 20 points in all of them.
But Saturday, he had to sit.
“He’s doing exceptionally well, but this (would have been) seven games in 11 days coming off his layoff,” Carlisle said. “(We) felt this was a game he should sit.
“It was a decision we talked about a lot and that was one reason why he didn’t get downgraded until later in the day. The great thing is he’s done great. The rehab has gone exceptionally well and things are in a very good place.”
So much so that it was a close call about whether the 7-3 center/forward would play.
“Logically, yes,” Carlisle said when asked if this was a pre-determined game off for Porzingis. “But he did so well last night (in San Antonio) that there was a slight pause.
“But we’ve got to think big picture. We’ve got to think long term as well as short term. It’s a hit not having him out there, but this is the right thing for him and for our team right now.”
Even if it was painful to go through on Saturday night.
And it wasn’t like the Rockets weren’t shorthanded, too. Center Christian Wood (ankle) and high-scoring Victor Oladipo (load management) were held out. They did welcome back John Wall, who had been out for five games with a knee problem.
In the end, they had to chalk it up as one of those nights.