Gil LeBreton

Healthy Howard could spell trouble for Mavs

Houston Rockets center Dwight Howard  drives to the basket between Dallas Mavericks players Dirk Nowitzki  and Tyson Chandler during the first half in Game 1. Howard played limited minutes but flashed his Superman-type presence.
Houston Rockets center Dwight Howard drives to the basket between Dallas Mavericks players Dirk Nowitzki and Tyson Chandler during the first half in Game 1. Howard played limited minutes but flashed his Superman-type presence. AP

Like any good soap opera, all the subplots and melodrama made it into the script Saturday night.

That greedy turncoat Chandler Parsons. That dinosaur point guard Jason Terry. Dwight Howard’s mending knee. Rajon Rondo’s lost shooting eye.

The Dallas Mavericks and Houston Rockets, scowling at each other in the playoffs for the first time in 10 years.

If you had promised Mavericks coach Rick Carlisle that the Rockets’ Howard would be on the floor for less than 20 minutes Saturday, he probably would have liked his chances in Game 1.

But Howard made his 17 minutes of cameo time pay off in rebounds and intimidating presence, and Houston made the most of two surges at the outset of each half.

Terry soared. James Harden showed why he’s easily the NBA’s MVB — most valuable beard. And the Rockets did what 56-win, No. 2-playoff seeds are supposed to do in their postseason openers, holding off the Mavericks 118-108.

After falling behind by 15 in the first half and patiently grinding back to take the lead, the Mavericks couldn’t answer a similar Rockets spurt after halftime. Even with Dirk Nowitzki scoring 24 points and ex-Rocket Parsons logging 36 minutes, Carlisle’s team struggled to find a rhythm against a Houston team that has now beaten the Mavericks four of five times this season.

Terry hardly looked like the 37-year-old that the Mavericks deemed too old and too expensive to keep around after their championship season. Terry was supposed to be the Houston lineup’s weak link, after starting point guard Patrick Beverley went down.

But Harden simply assumed many of Beverley’s ball-handling duties Saturday night, and Terry rained four 3-point buckets on the visitors’ heads, finishing with 16 points.

Before Game 1, happy to be back in the playoffs, Terry said he felt “like a little kid in a candy store.”

He played like one. And when Terry wasn’t shooting from outside, Harden often was maneuvering his way through the free-throw paint and finding a teammate headed for the basket.

The two columns on the stat sheet that mattered:

Houston went to the line and made 32 of 45 free throws. The Mavericks attempted only 17.

Lost on that same stat sheet could easily have been Howard’s situation. He scored 11 points and grabbed five rebounds in only 17 minutes.

But the big man’s playing time seemed limited only by the five personal fouls that he collected. Otherwise, he moved well and his once-injured knee appeared fine.

The Mavericks had enough trouble Saturday with Trevor Ariza inside and Corey Brewer off the Houston bench. A healthy Howard would indeed tilt the series heavily in the Rockets’ way.

Parsons played more, but didn’t nearly match what Ariza, his replacement in Houston, offered. There was a brief scare for the Mavericks, when Parsons appeared to tweak his injured knee and had to return to the locker room before the intermission.

He returned, but it wasn’t enough. Nor were the apparent return of Rondo’s shooting eye — 7 of 16 from the floor for 15 points — and Tyson Chandler’s 18 rebounds.

Home teams, the ones with 56 wins, are supposed to bolt from the starting blocks in the NBA playoffs.

The NBA experts expected this series to be mostly even.

The Mavericks had better hope they’re right.

Gil LeBreton, 817-390-7697

Twitter: @gilebreton

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