HOUSTON – With a dominant win on the road Sunday afternoon against one of the most efficient teams in the NBA, the Dallas Mavericks have suddenly vaulted into the conversation that’s usually reserved for the league’s elite franchises.
In one of the most difficult arenas for opposing teams to play in, the Mavs led wire-to-wire and knocked out the Houston Rockets in a gritty performance, winning 137-123 before a sellout crowd of 18,055 at the Toyota Center.
While imposing their will on the Rockets all game long, the Mavs climbed into sole possession of first place in the Southwest Division and are also now owners of the No. 3 seed in the Western Conference. In addition, the Mavs won their fifth game in a row for the first time since the 2015-’16 season.
And for those naysayers who say the Mavs mostly got “fat” on a recent 4-0 home stand by beating up primarily on some of the NBA’s bottom feeders, Sunday’s showing gave the critics something else to think about.
Still, in the aftermath of getting the Rockets full attention, the Mavs shied away from announcing this win as some sort of statement game.
“You could look at it that way, but for us it’s just another game,” forward Kristaps Porzingis said. “I know there’s always a rivalry between Dallas and Houston, but it’s just another game. We want to keep it going no matter who’s in front of us, and we want to play our basketball.”
The Mavs showcased their brand of basketball against the Rockets, who dropped to 11-6 while watching Dallas shoot 48.5 percent from the field. Even more stunning, the Mavs out-shot the 3-point hungry Rockets from 3-point range as they made 17-of-44 baskets from 3-point land while Houston was just 10-of-44 from downtown.
“We’re not going to get over excited,” coach Rick Carlisle said. “We know we’re capable. We had a complex game plan today that our players stuck with through thick and thin, and that was an important aspect to the game.”
Also important was the way the Mavs stood their ground even in the midst of a torrid run by the Rockets. Dallas led, 89-69, with 8:04 left in the third quarter following a pair of free throws by Luka Doncic.
But the Rockets came storming back and narrowed the deficit to 114-109 following a tip-in dunk by Clint Capella with 7:39 to go in the game. But the Mavs didn’t blink.
Instead, they seemed to relish the fact that the Rockets finally made them sweat as Dallas ended the game on a 23-14 run, with 11 of the points coming from Doncic.
Overall, Doncic was spectacular as he poured in 41 points—one shy of his career high – grabbed six rebounds, handed out 10 assists and collected a pair of steals. As Doncic and the Mavs were walking off the court after the game, some of the Mavs’ fans in attendance were chanting: MVP, MVP!
“It was nice,” said Doncic, who eclipsed the 40-point barrier for the second time in four games. “When I hear those sounds it was very nice.
“I never imagined being called like that in the NBA. It’s something that’s special.”
Rockets coach Mike D’Antoni certainly was impressed with Doncic’s body of work.
“He’s just a great basketball player,” D’Antoni said. “He was great in Europe at age 16 or 17. He knows how to play, he’s got a big body, he’s strong, he shoots threes, he’s got a good step-back, he’s got everything. You can see he loves to play. He’s got a great future that’s for sure.”
The Mavs’ future also looks bright, especially if they can continue trending the way they have lately. And especially if they can continue getting a helping hand out of Tim Hardaway Jr. like they did on Sunday.
Hardaway put together his finest performance since joining the Mavs last January as the finished with 31 points, five assists and two steals. Coupled with the 23 points and 13 rebounds the Mavs got from Porzingis, the 12 points and 10 boards Dorian-Finney-Smith contributed, and the 11 points Maxi Kleber scored, Dallas has proven that it is indeed a force to be reckoned with out West.
“My teammates and my peers still have that confidence in me on and off the court,” said Hardaway, who was 10-of-18 from the field and 5-of-11 from 3-point territory. “I’m just trying to stay in the moment right now and continue to work before practice and after practice, get extra reps up there, and just carry it in the game and take a lot of pressure off of KP and Luka.”
The Mavs showed the Rockets early on that they came to play as they jumped out to a 16-4 lead with the game less than three minutes old.
“That was the main thing,” said Porzingis, who registered his fifth double-double in the past six games. “We talked about it – us players – during pregame.
“Usually these early games we kind of start a little bit slow sometimes and we wanted to come out with a little energy, and we did. And that set the tone for the whole game.”
The tone-setting first three minutes also was something Carlisle pointed to as the gateway to victory.
“It’s hugely important, because playing in front in the NBA is the biggest key to winning,” Carlisle said. “If you’re constantly playing from behind your odds of winning and your chances of winning diminish exponentially. And a good start got our team energized too, which was great.”
The Mavs led 45-29 after the first quarter, 78-60 at the half and 105-95 after three quarters. And they didn’t let performances by Houston’s James Harden (32 points, nine rebounds, 11 assists), Russell Westbrook (27 points, five rebounds six assists), and Capella (21 points, 22 rebounds) cramp their style.
““You come in here, this is a big-time place to play and you’re playing against great players,” Carlisle said. “The team is growing.
“This is a big win, there’s no question about that.”