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by: Kris Gardner, United States Basketball Writers Association member. Credentialed media member since 1997. USBWA approved online journalist. Voter of Katrina McClain, Naismith, USBWA, and Wooden awards.

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Rockets' small ball tops Porzingis and Mavs 128-121

Posted: January 31, 2020 -- 11:57 p.m. CT

HOUSTON, TX (Toyota Center) -- Friday night, the Houston Rockets defeated the Dallas Mavericks 128-121 with small ball. No one listed taller than 6'6" played for the Rockets in the win.

Clint Capela did not play in the game because of his bruised right heel. With Capela out of action, Rockets Head Coach Mike D'Antoni went small. No Tyson Chandler. No Isaiah Hartenstein.

Tonight, just like Monday night in Utah against the Jazz, small ball won. Dallas' Kristaps Porzingis, all 7'3" of him, scored 35 points and pulled down 12 rebounds; however, the Rockets shot 21 for 45 from three-point range to defeat the Mavs.

With the win tonight, the Rockets even the season series against the Mavericks 1-1 with two games remaining. Houston has won four of its past six since losing a season-high four in a row from Jan. 14 to Jan. 20. Houston had gone 22 consecutive games without hitting 20 or more 3-pointers, marking their longest streak under D'Antoni.

Ben McLemore shot a perfect 3-for-3 from three-point range in the first quarter to score a team-high 9 points and help the Rockets outscore the Mavs 35-28 in the opening quarter. Four different players scored six points for the Mavericks in the first period.

After shooting 1 for 7 from the floor in the first quarter, James Harden made 4 of 8 field goal attempts (3 for 4 threes) in the second quarter. Harden scored 14 of the Rockets' 30 points in the quarter. The Rockets shot 10 for 24 in the quarter while the Mavs shot 50% (11 for 22, 3/7 3s) in the quarter and outscored Houston 32-30.

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Houston led Dallas 65-60 at halftime. Harden's shooting cooled off in the third quarter; but, Russell Westbrook heated up and went to work. Russ scored 16 points in the third quarter on 6 for 8 field goal shooting and 4 for 4 from the foul line. Russ also dished 4 assists including an alley-oop pass to McLemore for a one-hand slam in transition to put Houston up 101-83 with 29.7 seconds remaining in the third quarter.

The Mavs scored the final two points of the third quarter and the first 7 points of the fourth quarter to cut the Rockets' lead to 101-92 with 10:52 left in the game. Dallas continued to cut into Houston's lead with a 12-6 spurt to climb within 3 (107-104) with 6:53 on the clock.

After a Rockets' timeout, Harden scored a layup and converted a free throw to begin an 8-2 run to stretch Houston's lead to 115-106. Kristaps Porzingis scored 5 in a row over the shorter Rockets to slice Houston's lead to 115-110.

James Harden responded with a clutch step back three-point basket. Next, P. J. Tucker sank a corner three. Harden followed with another 3-point basket for a 124-117 lead with 79 seconds remaining in the game. The Mavs did not get closer than 5 points in the closing moments of the game.

Harden was not concerned the Mavs cut Houston's 18 point lead to 3.

"No, they're a good team," Harden responded. "They shoot the ball extremely well. They have playmakers; they have guys that can drive to the basket; so, they made a run late in the game. We made a run back and closed the game out."

Harden scored 14 of his game-high tying 35 points in the fourth quarter. It's his first time leading the Rockets in scoring since at Memphis on January 14.

"I thought we did a good job for the most part of the game," Westbrook said. "Honestly, I think there were some spurts where we missed some offensive rebounds; but, that's going to happen, even if we were playing big."

The Rockets next game is Sunday, February 2, at home, versus the New Orleans Pelicans. Tip is set for 1 p.m.


In addition to scoring 35 points tonight, James Harden also had 16 rebounds, 6 assists and 4 steals. The last Rocket with at least 35 points, 16 boards, 6 assists and 4 steals in a game was Hakeem Olajuwon vs. Seattle on March 10, 1987. The last guard to post those numbers was Michael Jordan at Cleveland on March 28, 1990 (four other players since then prior to Harden).

Dating back to last season, Houston is 22-2 when having 20 or more threes made in a game and 29-2 when shooting 40.0% or better from three-point range.

Houston had 25 assists with a season-low 7 turnovers tonight, marking its best assist-to-turnover ratio of the season (3.57; previous high was 2.62 at Washington on October 30, 2019). The Rockets had committed 15 or more turnovers in each of their previous three games while averaging 18.0 assists per game with 16.7 turnovers per game.

The Rockets are 17-2 when scoring 120 or more points this season (with one of the losses to Dallas on Nov. 24, 2019) and are 88-7 when doing so under head coach Mike D'Antoni back to 2016-17. Houston has scored 120 or more points in three of the past six games after doing so three times the 13 games prior.

Houston had 11 steals tonight while forcing 17 turnovers. The Rockets have recorded 10 or more steals in four of the past 6 games (9.5 steals per game) after doing so twice the 20 games prior (6.7 steals per game). The Rockets are 12-3 when having 10 or more steals this season. Opponents have recorded 15 or more turnovers in seven of the past 8 games after doing so once the six games prior.

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