Ever since Avery Johnson took over the coaching duties of the Dallas Mavericks, he instituted a “defense first” mode on the players and they bought into the system and made it work, well most of the time; we won’t even make mention of the 2006 NBA Finals at this juncture.
But, overall, Johnson did instill a defensive mind on his players and it still is in effect today, again, most of the time. I know over the last couple of years that the Mavericks have been labeled as soft on defense and then after they won the championship last season and released players such as Tyson Chandler and Deshawn Stevenson, and some stated that a lot of the defensive minds left and Dallas had no way of getting back to where they were.
Well, some of that might actually be correct, but there were still some glimpses of it in tonights game against the Houston Rockets. Now Dallas did play this same team this past weekend in Houston and even though they had to take the game into overtime to get the win, there were still some defensive mindsets on the court, not all the time, but some of the time.
Dallas came home to get a couple of days rest and practice before facing this same Rockets team and, well if we could eliminate the 1st quarter completely and part of the second quarter, this would be a great game. But we can’t, and I have always been one of the philosophy that you have to take the good with the bad and the bad with the good and unfortunately the first part of the game was the bad and the second half of the second quarter and the remainder of the game was the good.
One would have thought that since the Rockets had to play a game in between their meetings with the Mavericks, that they would be tired and not able to keep up, but that was not the case. I really feel that their game helped them to keep their touch on the ball and some of that was evident when they jumped on the Mavericks and built up a double-digit lead right off the bat and hit Dallas with a series of three-pointers and sent the Mavericks scrambling to play, literally.
From the beginning, Houston was on fire, was running their set plays, getting their three-point shooters lined up where they wanted them and fired at will without too much opposition from the defense of the Mavericks and needless to say, Coach Carlisle didn’t like it too much and had to call several time outs to get his teams heads back on straight and get them focused.
Before they knew it, the Rockets had taken the first quarter quite easily with a 30-19 lead and were feeling very confident. It left the Mavericks scratching their heads for sure. The Rockets knew that they had to put it all out there because of the alignment of the Western Conference for playoff spots and on any given day, between the 4th and 8th seeds and those after, can shift and one day you can be in the playoffs and the next, you’re out, so they knew they had to draw first blood and they did.
The Rockets had made it clear that they were not going to be a pushover and that Dallas would have to tough it out to accomplish the win, and Dallas did, thankfully so.
Over the last three games, at least, Dallas has been manhandled on the boards and prior to Saturday’s game in Houston the ratio of rebounds was 100-63 and it was not better on Saturday night as Houston beat Dallas in the rebounding game as well, but Dallas had the offense and that is what won the game. Well as they had been taught and are still being made to think of, is that a good offense starts with a good defense and that worked tonight after Dallas finally woke up.
As I stated, Houston handily won the first quarter and most of the second quarter before Dallas put on their defensive hats and decided to play ball. But in the second, Dallas started to build some momentum and took the quarter with a 27-19 edge over the Rockets and by the end of the first half, Dallas had cut Houston’s lead from 16 points to 3 with a 49-46 score with the last score on a drive to the basket by Dirk.
Dirk Nowitzki led all scorers for the night with 21 points on 5 of 17 from the field and 6 rebounds. His night started off slow, but in the critical crunch time he either made the shots or he found the open guy to try to get the assists on the score. Roddy B had another great night with his slicing and dicing around the paint, shooting the open three and finished the night with 14 points and 5 assists. The backup phenom, Brandon Wright, had 13 points on 6 of 7 shooting and ended the game on a slam with a foul on a pass from Dirk.
JET added 12 points for the night and the most defensive man on the court, Shawn Marion made have only scored 4 points, but he also had 11 rebounds. The best spark of the night, in tow with a headband, was Lamar Odom. Now we all know that Odom has had his trouble adapting to the Mavericks way of play and he has caught it from the fans as well, but tonight was the best night of his play as a Dallas Maverick.
Lamar came into the game with a lot of positive energy and pep in his step and looked as if he was really ready to play and he did. Even though he didn’t have astronomical numbers, his numbers were still good for him. He finished the night with 9 points on 4 of 5 shooting, 4 rebounds, 3 assists, 1 steal and 1 block. It looks as if he is finally settling in and is ready to kick some backside with the rest of them.
Luis Scola led the Rockets with 22 points and 8 rebounds. Goran Dragic finished the night with 17 points and 7 assists even though it was rumored that he might miss the game after rolling his ankle the night before, didn’t look like he suffered much from it if he did. Rookie, Chandler Parsons added 15 points to go with his 9 rebounds and Courtney Lee added 10 points.
Dallas fought tooth and nail to get this win as they had to come from such a deficit early in the game, but finally took command of the game on a three-pointer from JET with 5:39 left in the third quarter and the Mavs were down 53-52, but with the three, Dallas went up 55-53. After a miscue by Jason Kidd and a steal by Dragic, he went down and scored a basket to give the Rockets a 55-55 tie, but then on the very next play, Kidd got to redeem himself by getting an open three and put the Mavericks in the lead again 58-55 and they never lost the lead again.
All of this started with a 21-6 run by Dallas and them limiting the Rockets to only 12 points in the third quarter; with Dallas scoring 23 in the third, now Dallas had a 69-61 lead. Granted Rocket Coach Kevin McHale tried to keep his guys fresh and thinking positive and they did try to make a go of it in the fourth, but Dallas was too much for them and they just finally ran out of steam and Dallas took the fourth and a 90-81 win.
The bench play of Dallas was great tonight by scoring 48 points, but they also had 15 rebounds and 12 assists compared to 17 points of scoring from the Rockets bench. Dallas dominated the numbers tonight by shooting 46.6% from the field, 31.6% from behind the arc and 80% from the free throw line. Houston finished shooting 41.8% from the field, 28.6% from behind the arc and 75% from the free throw line. Both Dallas and Houston had 13 turnovers and Dallas got the advantage on the board, 43-39 and also points in the paint 44-34.
So one can see there is still life in the Dallas Mavericks championship team and maybe soon they will get Branden Haywood and Delonte West back and be able to finish the rest of this season on a good note. With tonight’s game, there are only about 15 games left for the Mavericks and the next two are going to be as tough as any have been this month. They travel to Florida to take on the Miami Heat on Thursday and then face the Orlando Magic on Friday and this will be the first time Dallas has been back to Miami since they won the championship, so you know they are going to have a huge target on their back and the Heat are going to feel they have something to prove since they have lost some good games recently, and lost those game by double-digit scoring.
Dallas is going to have to be ready and put their defensive hats on and get both of these games. And with that, I will bid you a good day and say good luck and let’s go Mavs!