Rockets 106, Mavericks 98 - Victory in Big D

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After Wednesday’s disappointing loss to the Los Angeles Lakers the Houston Rockets picked up their first win of the season, beating the Dallas Mavericks in the gym Mark Cuban built 106 to 98. Due to illness, the Mavs were without the legendary Dirk Nowitzki and his ageless shooting talent. Despite an ugly start, the Rockets caught a rhythm and took care of business in the second half.

James Harden could not repeat the excellent start he had Wednesday in Los Angeles, missing his first five shot attempts and struggling to set the up-tempo pace the Rockets want to play this season. Credit the Dallas defense for making everything difficult for Harden, closing any space the ‘Beard’ might have found himself on the floor. Even his 10 first half points were difficult to come by; every jumper was contested and he closed the half with a converted and-one that just beat the shot clock (he missed the technical free throw that came after Wes Matthews was whistled for complaining to the ref).

The Rockets managed to hold a lead for the majority of the first half thanks in large part to the play of Trevor Ariza and Eric Gordon. As the Rockets struggled early, Ariza provided an early spark with 11 points in the first quarter on 60% shooting. Eric Gordon added 12 points and 4 assists in the first half, fitting in as Houston’s secondary playmaker and shot creator.

The second half saw much better movement on and off the ball, as well as Harden finally finding a rhythm. Things came easier for Harden, both as a scorer and as a playmaker, and his building chemistry with KJ McDaniels was a thing of beauty. Shaking off his early slump, Harden finished with 26 points on 50% shooting and added 8 assists and 7 rebounds.

Harden had a lot of help in this game, which is not something that was said often last season. Ariza continued his hot start, closing the game out with a game-high 27 points on 67% shooting (hitting 5 of 7 from beyond the arc). Gordon’s playmaking continued to be a factor, in complement to Harden’s game, with 18 points and 6 assists.

Head Coach Mike D’Antoni should be credited for rotation changes he made. KJ McDaniels saw a significant uptick in minutes that proved to be very beneficial in the second half. Also, Nene saw slightly less time on the floor after a disastrous night Wednesday – allowing for the season debut of Montrezl Harrell, who figures to earn more playing time as the year progresses.

The Rockets play against these Dallas Mavericks again on Sunday, as Houston welcomes its team for this season’s home opener.

Game Ball

This is a segment of the game recaps that will give the proverbial game ball to a player that proved to be most valuable to the Rockets on a given night. This award won’t necessarily go to the player that puts up the best numbers, but to the player that made the greatest impact on the team – tangible or intangible.

The second game ball of the season goes to Trevor Ariza.

Despite James Harden going on triple-double alert, Ariza’s play is what won the Rockets this game. He kept the team afloat when Harden struggled to get it going early, and was active on both ends of the floor.

What’s perhaps most encouraging about Ariza’s play is that he seemed to be more engaged than he had been in quite some time, potentially including the entirety of last season. The type of energy he displayed today is infectious and lifted the Rockets in a moment of fragility – a moment that could’ve led to disaster.

Trevor Ariza is an important cog in this Rockets machine, and, as Rockets commentators Matt Bullard and Bill Worrell pointed out…

‘The Rockets go as [Ariza] goes.”

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