Isolation ensues for each player on the Dallas Mavericks as the ashes of the All-Star break settle in an exasperated huff. The final stretch of the season is in sight for the powerful teams that dominate the stacked Western Conference, Dallas being one of them. Barely.
After an excruciating 104-89 loss to the Oklahoma City Thunder on national television (where one couldn’t tell the difference from TNT’s lips and the OKC’s ass) to tip off the remainder of the NBA season, the Mavericks were looking to rewrite their Cinderella story with a happier (half) ending, starting with a home win over the visiting Houston Rockets, a team that had yet to bow at the sneakers of the Mavs this season, Houston being a throbbing open wound chaffing their already tormented heel.
“Last night was a poor performance,” Mavericks’ head coach Rick Carlisle said about the OKC loss as he stood before the media following the Dallas-Houston duel. “We knew a lot of tonight was going to be about keeping our poise.”
Torpid memories of giving up 31 points on 24 turnovers festered in the minds of the Mavericks from the last time they faced James Harden shifty beard and his ragtag gang of teammates, so Friday night’s home game against the visiting Rockets would be a desperate point-clawing chess match must-win for Dallas. Poise, among other things, would be the key of a dominate win.
They needed a sign that the best is yet to come. They needed to take down their Texas rivals. They needed to prove to the West that they, in fact, are renascent. And they needed to execute a well-timed rabbit punch in order to prove it.
The rabbit punch came within the second half of the game. It came within the form of one Al-Farouq Aminu. It came in the form of Devin Harris. It came with the Mavericks no longer lacking in awareness with their diabolical 111-100 win over their new arch nemesis.
“Farouq was tremendous,” Coach Carlisle said of Aminu’s 17-point, 12-rebound game. “Lately, he’s been one of our best plus/minus guys. He gives us a presence on the boards. You can see his shooting get better every game, and he takes the challenge, defensively. He can guard a lot of different positions. He’s playing (the 5) now some. He’s having a lot of things to process, but he’s doing a terrific job.”
Dallas managed to pull ahead of Houston in order to close out the half leading 54-43 after going over four minutes without scoring at the start of the game itself, their confidence tittering on the edge of the very bloody knife. The home team went on a 20-7 run toward the end of the first quarter and managed to close the spring of the game leading 24-20.
At first glance, fingers started to point at Rajon Rondo (who had recently come back after teammate Richard Jefferson’s knee high-fived his face weeks before while on the road) after the Rockets went on a 20-9 run before Mr. Face Fracture himself took solace in the comfort of a hardened bench. However, during the third quarter, Rondo hit five shots right out of the gate after being only 0-of-3 from the field at the end of the first half. Harris, showing renewed vigor, also seemed to come alive in the second half as well, and called for Houston to bend over to form a very delicate position (ankles firmly in hand) – something the Mavs failed to demonstrate earlier on in the season.
“I just wanted to be aggressive,” Harris remarked in the locker room following the victorious win. “With a team like this, they play a helter-skelter way and there was a lot of open shots out there so we had to be aggressive and make something happen.”
The man of the hour, Aminu, spoke candidly about in-game adjustments. “We just need to be a little more sound and Coach (Carlisle) came to the huddle and said we need to be aggressive if they’re going to play that kind of defense,” he said. “We were trying to set up the offense, but when the game is going how it was, we just need to attack them.”
Gasps from the crowd ensued when All-Star and one-time Stephen Curry lob partner Dirk Nowitzki, disappeared into the locker room after his own face got a little too intimate with James Harden’s beard (which had a hard head attached to it). Nowitzki, revived in his indelible leadership, almost seemed to skip as he emerged from the locker room after a few minutes, only to pause for a beat as Chandler Parsons, who was being led out for an injured left ankle, passed him in the corridor, his effulgence suddenly put on mute for the time being.
Parsons will undergo a MRI on Saturday to assess the severity of his ankle. Panic accordingly, folks.
The rabbit punch may not have severed the spine of the Rockets at the base of the skull, but it proved a bewildering point to all strong teams awaiting to face them in the final stretch of the season:
The Dallas Mavericks will not go down without a fight.