HOUSTON, TX - FEBRUARY 11:  James Harden #13 of the Houston Rockets drives to the basket defended by Dwight Powell #7 of the Dallas Mavericks in the first half at Toyota Center on February 11, 2019 in Houston, Texas.  NOTE TO USER: User expressly acknowledges and agrees that, by downloading and or using this photograph, User is consenting to the terms and conditions of the Getty Images License Agreement.  (Photo by Tim Warner/Getty Images)

Tim Warner/Getty Images

The Houston Rockets defeated the Dallas Mavericks for the first time in three tries this season with a 120-104 victory Monday at the Toyota Center.

Houston is now 4-1 in its last five games, while the Mavericks fell to an ugly 6-22 on the road in 2018-19. They should look no further than their continued struggles away from home when searching for reasons they are not in the current Western Conference playoff picture.

James Harden led the way for the Rockets with 31 points, eight rebounds, seven assists and five steals and extended his streak of games with 30 or more points to 30 in dramatic fashion by scoring 11 points in the final three minutes. Five Rockets finished in double figures, including Chris Paul (17 points and 11 dimes) and Gerald Green (19 points and six boards).

Luka Doncic spearheaded the effort for the Mavericks with 21 points, 10 rebounds and eight assists. 


Rockets Remain One of Warriors’ Biggest Threats

The Golden State Warriors lost a total of two playoff games in their other three series in last year’s NBA playoffs, but the Rockets forced a decisive Game 7 in the Western Conference Finals.

The current standings set the stage for a potential rematch in the second round, which would be the worst possible scenario for Golden State.

Houston will not be afraid of the two-time defending champions based on last year’s series, which it led 3-2 before Paul went out with a hamstring injury. It also may be the only team in the league that can consistently keep pace with the Warriors in the scoring department, seeing how it ranks second in offensive rating, per

Harden can create his shot against any defender and get the Warriors’ weapons in foul trouble with his penetration, body control and ability to get to the line. The Rockets also have shooters in Eric Gordon, PJ Tucker and Green to take advantage of openings created when defenses send doubles Harden’s way.

Elsewhere, Paul can use his physical defensive style in an effort to at least slow Stephen Curry for stretches. Like Harden, he is capable of knocking down perimeter shots or creating with penetration, and he figures to be closer to the nine-time All-Star version of himself come playoff time as he gradually works his way back from another hamstring injury.

It should be noted this team is just 25th in the league in defensive rating, but the eventual return of Clint Capela (thumb surgery) and the acquisition of Iman Shumpert will help address the concerns.

Opponents shoot 1.5 percent worse from the field than their normal averages when Shumpert defends them, and he has the versatility to defend ball-handlers or bigger stretch forwards on the wing. He is also battle-tested (71 playoff games) and someone who can exert maximum effort defensively on the Warriors’ playmakers without worrying about his number of shots on the other end.

Capela can protect the rim (opponents shoot 2.3 percent worse than their normal averages when he defends them inside six feet) and help on the offensive end by catching lobs from Harden and Paul and working in pick-and-rolls.

Houston doesn’t have the firepower to necessarily beat the Warriors, but a second-round matchup would be a problem for the latter and prevent them from steamrolling through the playoffs.

The Rockets already pushed them to the brink of elimination once and would at least create significant fatigue before a potential Western Conference Finals against the Oklahoma City Thunder with Russell Westbrook and Paul George or the balanced Denver Nuggets.


Despite Loss, Luka Reminds Fans That Brighter Days Are Ahead

Mavericks fans holding on to slight playoff hopes can point to one clear silver lining in Monday’s loss—Doncic.

The rookie gave Harden a taste of his own medicine with a step-back three over the reigning MVP from well beyond the arc in the first quarter and didn’t stop accumulating highlights. He busted out a between-the-leg dribble and fadeaway jumper in one motion, threw a perfectly placed alley-oop pass from nearly half court and consistently sliced through the lane to create looks for himself and others.

While he doesn’t have an explosive first step, his understanding of angles on the floor and ability to read the defense with hesitation moves was on full display against Houston.

Doncic’s instincts are beyond his 19 years of age thanks to his time playing professionally in the Euroleague, and his brilliance is the one chance Dallas has to makeup ground in a hurry in the playoff picture.

The Mavericks entered play four games behind the Los Angeles Clippers for the No. 8 seed, but the latter traded leading scorer Tobias Harris and would also benefit in a way from missing the playoffs. Los Angeles’ 2019 first-round pick is protected for picks Nos. 1 through 14, meaning it would go to the Boston Celtics if it made the postseason. 

Dallas would also have to leapfrog the Sacramento Kings and Los Angeles Lakers to make the postseason. Still, the former hasn’t reached the playoffs since the 2005-06 campaign, and the latter has been a mess of failure to live up to expectations coupled with injuries and Anthony Davis rumors that went nowhere.

The Mavericks still face an uphill battle to get back in the race, but Doncic’s play of late is a hint of what’s to come the rest of the season and in his career as he garners more experience in the league.

He averaged 25.5 points, 8.3 rebounds and 6.3 assists while shooting 34.2 percent from three-point range in his previous four February games, and the one he failed to score 20 or more saw him notch his third triple-double since Jan. 21.

Doncic has already made strides as his rookie season continues, and he figures to get even better when playing alongside Kristaps Porzingis after the big man returns from a torn ACL. While that may not come until next season, the Mavericks have a dynamic duo to build around for years to come.


What’s Next? 

Both teams play Wednesday, with the Mavericks hosting the Miami Heat and the Rockets at the Minnesota Timberwolves.


Stats courtesy of

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