As Tuesday night’s Game 2 neared, the challenge in front of the Dallas Mavericks couldn’t have been clearer.
Out, likely for whatever remains of the NBA playoffs, was Chandler Parsons, whose knee — coach Rick Carlisle conceded — may be injured worse than it initially appeared.
Out also was Devin Harris, who was supposed to help drive the Mavericks engine on nights like this.
But when the bell rang, Rajon Rondo (pick one) couldn’t, wouldn’t or didn’t answer. And when Carlisle’s team would have needed Parsons or anyone to help inside, the Mavericks had only a meek response for Houston’s Dwight Howard.
Remember owner Mark Cuban’s strategy for clearing the Mavericks’ salary deck to make room for then-soon-to-be free agent Howard?
Now you see why.
With Howard logging major minutes, unlike in Game 1, and scoring 28 points and grabbing 12 rebounds, the Rockets soared ahead two games to none in their best-of-seven series, beating the Mavericks 111-99.
Carlisle’s team is down two, in more ways than one.
Down two games, though headed home to a friendlier audience than the playoff success-starved Houston fans.
Down two key contributors, because Harris’ toe remains an ongoing concern.
But most of all, the Mavericks have found themselves lacking the two primary things that the Rockets’ all-league twosome, Howard and James Harden, have provided for Houston.
Big games call for big players. While Howard and Harden, however, were combining for 52 points, 17 rebounds and eight assists, and keeping the pressure on until the night turned into a Houston dunkfest, the Mavericks were getting an 11-for-37 shooting night from their main two, Dirk Nowitzki and Monta Ellis.
Once the Mavericks’ shooting, in general, hit the deep freeze in the fourth quarter, the Rockets turned the misses into fast break dunks at the other end, and what had been a close, intriguingly contested Game 2 became another Houston rout.
Nowitzki had one of those nights — three for 14 from the field — which offset the fact that he also hustled for a game-high 13 rebounds.
Maybe it was Howard’s flying presence. Or maybe it just became an energy thing, when the Mavericks could no longer tread water.
Whatever it was, they seemed to stop moving on offense and settled for whatever long jumper they felt they had.
Houston often returned the favor with a dunk.
Trouble often comes in pairs. The Mavericks started their evening with the Parsons-Harris news.
Their night ended with having to deal with Harden and Howard.
Gil LeBreton, 817-390-7697