The Dallas Mavericks hosted the Houston Rockets on Wednesday night, in one of Dallas' few televised televised appearances this season. Two teams with two very different trajectories: the high power offense of Houston with the second best record in the West, and the Mavericks with the second worst.
That disparity was on the screen at the beginning of the game, with Houston setting the network on fire, starting 8/8 from the field and 6/6 from the depth, eventually hitting 10 trios in the fourth. After a series of turnovers in Dallas, Houston jumped to a quick lead of 20-7. He took a series of offensive boards from Salah Mejri, and some units from Dennis Smith Jr. to cut to a 10-point lead from Houston after one.
For more heat than the Rockets were to start the game, they were just as cold to start the second, with a 1/11 frost from the field, which allowed the Mavericks to reduce the deficit. It took Dennis Smith Jr., who will appear in the Rising Stars Challenge (and unofficially in Slam Dunk Contest) in the All-Star weekend, at some point to feel comfortable in the game. He ended up finding his legs, and in what he played as a neighborhood of 2018 Mavericks, they kept Houston in 13 points in the second quarter and scored just six points in half.
At some point during the break the Houston Rockets recalled they are a top-three team in the league, and that the Mavericks could do little to stop them. DSJ and Wesley Matthews calmed down, and although Yogi Ferrell got under way, Houston extended its lead to 18 in the final frame.
The Mavericks had some bouts of activity to keep the game from going crazy: Matthews had a really nice night with 29 points (10/18 shots, 7/14 of three) with 4 rebounds and 5 assists, but it was not enough. Dallas dropped to 16-32 on the season, and Houston improved to 34-12, with a final score of 104-97.
Salah Mejri Showcase?
If you watched the ESPN broadcast, you may have heard analyst Jeff Van Gundy clarify Salah Mejri's alter ego "The Mej". And although there is probably a valid point there, Mejri did have a solid game.
Adding 6 points and 10 rebounds in 15 minutes, Mejri was very active and committed, particularly in the offensive glass where he grabbed six boards.
Outside of his shooting block, this is the best Mejri. His name has been published online by analysts and fans as a commercial possibility before the deadline next month. If there is some substance in this, this was the perfect game for the center against a good team.
Barnes 'act disappeared
At the beginning of the game, the Mavericks tried to take Harrison Barnes' lack of correspondence. Chris Paul in him. He got some decent looks, but not enough to return to it.
After that, Barnes had long stretches in the game (like four or five minutes at a time) without a shot attempt. Yes, other players found their rhythm, but if Barnes is going to be the cornerstone of this team, he can not miss the elite competition.
Barnes feels more comfortable offensively in isolation. And while it is a useful tool, it makes it more difficult to involve others. This is something for which Barnes and Carlisle must find a solution.
Many questions, few answers
It's fair to say that few teams are doing much to stop the Rockets. They are built so close to the current prototypical team of the NBA, outside the defending champions. Unlike other teams trying to integrate elite talent, Chris Paul's Houston presentation has been quite fluid.
The Mavs are just too old and not very athletic, too methodical to keep up with a team like this. In what is perhaps the greatest control of the reality of a game like this, it was not that the Rockets beat Dallas doing things out of the ordinary. They were simply killed with a clear perimeter ball movement and three-point dynamic shots, and the Mavs could not rotate fast enough or move them out of their places often enough to get them out of the rhythm (except for the second quarter).  It's easy to dismiss games like these as a contender playing a rebuilder, but the truth is that this might be closer to reality than some are willing to admit.
Two-way maverick Johnathan Motley entered the game at junk time, and accumulated 5 points, 3 rebounds in two minutes. I wish more to come. #FreeMot