After ending their recent road trip with an impressive win at Portland, the Dallas Mavericks came out looking lethargic Friday night in a 100-96 loss to the Houston Rockets before a sellout crowd of 20,339 at American Airlines Center.
The Mavericks (11-9) allowed a whopping 57 points in the first half, and then couldn’t produce any key stops down the stretch in losing to their I-45 rivals.
“Tonight, we played a very gritty second half,” coach Rick Carlisle said. “I wish we would have played with the same kind of grit in the first half. We just didn’t do that, and it got us in the hole.”
James Harden sealed the victory for the Rockets (9-11) when he hoisted an 18-footer over the outstretched arms of Wesley Matthews — the ball bouncing on virtually every piece of the rim before crawling through the net to give Houston a four-point lead with 7.4 seconds to go.
“The defense was great, the shot was spectacular and a little lucky to get the bounce,” Carlisle said. “Wes played it great. It was just a little bit better shot. That’s all.”
Deron Williams followed with a missed 3-pointer, and now the Mavs head back on the road to start a two-game trip Sunday afternoon at the Washington Wizards.
The Mavs survived a scare from forward Dirk Nowitzki, who limped off the court with a hip injury and went directly to the locker room with 11:17 remaining in the game. Nowitzki, however, returned to the game with 6:34 to go, and his two free throws knotted the score at 96-all with 1:10 remaining.
But with 55 seconds left, the Mavs missed a crucial defensive assignment, and Harden fired a pass to a wide-open Terrence Jones for a dunk and a 98-96 Houston lead. Nowitzki then missed an 18-footer, setting the stage for Harden to clinch the game.
Matthews struggled on the offensive end, scoring just five points on 1-of-9 shooting. That included converting only 1 of 8 baskets from beyond the 3-point arc.
“He’s just got to stay the course with it,” Carlisle said. “The shots are on line and they’re hitting the back rim predominantly, and that means he’s just got to stay with it.”
Matthews played 34 minutes but never seemed to be in rhythm.
“I’m tired of hurting the team; I’m tired of missing shots,” he said. “I put everything I have into this game — I have since I started playing. I put everything I had to into getting back and being ready. I’m just trying to keep doubt out.”
The Mavs scored 14 unanswered early to take a 22-15 lead, but the game was tied at 26 after the first quarter. A barrage of 3-pointers helped Houston bolt ahead 57-53 at halftime.
“We’ve gotten some rough luck as a team with shot-making to this point,” Carlisle said. “Our defense has held us in some games. The shot-making, I’m not concerned about it. We got to be a grit-and-guts team, and we’ve got to put 48 minutes worth of it out there, and tonight we came up a little short there — I thought.”
The Mavs performed yet another experiment with small forward Chandler Parsons, who is under a minutes restriction. Normally a starter, Parsons came off the bench and played 27 minutes, and was still in the game when the outcome was in doubt.
“It was his idea [to come off the bench] — he came to me with it,” Carlisle said. “At this point, I like it a lot because it opens up lineup flexibility and it enables him to be involved in the fourth quarter.
“It is an adjustment for him, but until the minutes restrictions are completely lifted, if we don’t do something like this he’s going to keep getting shut down in the third quarter. He’s progressed enough in terms of his conditioning and rhythm to where we need to have that option.”
Parsons, who played a season-high 27 minutes, enjoys the sixth-man role.
“I haven’t been getting in a good rhythm and haven’t been getting myself going, and I hate not playing in the fourth quarter, so I just went to [Carlisle],” he said. “I want to win. I felt like this would give our team the best opportunity to win and be successful.
“It didn’t work tonight, but I thought I played with energy and got that second unit going a little bit there in the first half. We’ll continue to do that until this minutes restriction is up.”
Mavericks at Wizards
5 p.m. Sunday, FSSW