Groundhog Day: Three takeaways from Thursday’s 129-114 loss to the Mavericks

Dec 29, 2022; Dallas, Texas, USA; Dallas Mavericks guard Luka Doncic (77) runs back up court after scoring a three point shot against the Houston Rockets during the first quarter at the American Airlines Center. Mandatory Credit: Jerome Miron-USA TODAY Sports

Groundhog Day: Three takeaways from Thursday’s 129-114 loss to the Mavericks

The Rockets have now lost seven of eight after what was a pretty uncompetitive 129-114 loss to the Mavericks on Thursday night. The Rockets trailed by just six after the first quarter but shot just 7-of-21 with five turnovers in a second-quarter punctuated by Luka Doncic’s 3-pointer at the buzzer. Jalen Green led the Rockets with 23 points.

Too much Luka, Part II

Luka Doncic didn’t repeat his 50-point performance from Friday night at Toyota Center, but only because he didn’t need to. Doncic completely dominated the game, finishing with 35 points on 11-of-21 shooting, 12 rebounds, and 13 assists with just two turnovers. Doncic shot 4-of-9 from behind the 3-point line and attempted 12 free throws. He scored 14 points while playing the entire first quarter, helping the Mavs take a six-point lead, and Dallas was able to build on it for the five minutes he sat on the bench in the second quarter.

The only resistance provided by the Rockets came from Usman Garuba, who was in Real Madrid’s program when Doncic starred for the first team. He was physical with the Mavs star and gave him a little inadvertent shot to the face which caused the two to exchange words at one point.

Jabari Smith Jr’s strong in-between game

The Rockets rookie finished with 16 points in the first half on seven made baskets, and while two came from the restricted area, none came from behind the 3-point line. Smith made all five of his shots from the midrange and the paint outside the restricted area. After entering the game shooting 38% from those two areas of the floor, Smith finished the night 5-for-6 from those spots and became a bit of a zone-buster from the middle of the floor when the Mavs shifted out of their man-to-man in the first quarter. Problem for the Rockets was that Smith didn’t score after halftime and attempted just three shots.

Transition defense not optional

No team scores fewer fast break points than the Mavs, and no team allows more fast break points than the Rockets. On this night, the Rockets porous transition defense won out. Dallas entered the game averaging an NBA-low 9.9 fast break points per game, but they scored 25 against the Rockets on Thursday, 12 in the third quarter alone. One reason why the Rockets allowed a league-high 17.6 fast break points per game before Thursday is because they crash the offensive glass more than any other team, but that’s not why they allowed 25 on Thursday. Chalk it up to lack of effort and lack of focus.

Next up

The Rockets will close out 2022 by hosting the New York Knicks on New Year’s Eve.

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