Luka Legend: Three takeaways from Friday’s 112-106 loss to the Mavs

Dec 23, 2022; Houston, Texas, USA; Dallas Mavericks guard Luka Doncic (77) smiles after a play during the second quarter against the Houston Rockets at Toyota Center. Mandatory Credit: Troy Taormina-USA TODAY Sports

Luka Legend: Three takeaways from Friday’s 112-106 loss to the Mavs

The Rockets finished their season-long seven-game homestand with a fifth straight loss, as the Dallas Mavericks topped them 112-106. Jabari Smith Jr. led the way with 24 points and 10 rebounds, but the Rockets could do nothing to slow Luka Doncic.

Too much Luka

Luka Doncic didn’t play when the Rockets won in Dallas last month, that wasn’t the case on Friday night, and boy, did he make the Rockets feel his presence. Doncic dominated the entire night and hit a dagger 3 with 18.6 seconds left to give him 50 points on the night. He shot 17-of-31 from the field while grabbing eight rebounds and dishing out 10 assists.

“We made every shot hard,” Rockets head coach Stephen Silas said. “That’s the greatness of a great player, but I was proud of our guys and the way that they fought and tried and made every shot difficult and trapped and rotated out. Just, that’s what Luka does.”

The Rockets tried running a second defender at him in the fourth quarter, and that worked as none of his teammates finished with more than 11, but the Mavs ball movement got him loose for that last shot, and Tim Hardaway Jr. found him.

“When I coached Luka, he used to love getting trapped,” Silas said. “He’s like, ‘Oh, they’re blitzing me!’ He used to love it. We obviously had to go to it because he was rolling and get the ball out of his hands, but I’m not sure that he made an easy shot.”

More foul trouble for Kevin Porter Jr.

Porter picked up his fourth foul in the second quarter against the Spurs on Monday, and he was whistled for his third foul before seven minutes had elapsed off the clock on Friday, keeping him off the floor for more than 12 minutes in the first half. Making matters worse, the Rockets were without Eric Gordon, who missed the game due to a left thumb contusion, so the Rockets had to play a long stretch without any of their top three guards on the floor, and they paid the price in those minutes. The Rockets were outscored 15-7 in six first-half minutes with Porter and Jalen Green on the bench.

You can be a little reckless when you’re just another guy, but you can’t play like that when you’re a starting point guard, especially when it’s on a short-handed team. The plan going in was to have either Green or Porter on the floor at all times, but Silas’ hand was forced, and it burned the Rockets in the end.

Jae’Sean Tate’s return is getting closer

A right ankle injury kept the Rockets forward off the floor for the 25th straight game on Friday, but Silas said his return will come sooner rather than later.

“Looks like it’s gonna be pretty soon,” he said before the game. “It looks like it’s getting closer to days than weeks.”

Tate started doing on-court work three weeks ago in San Francisco and has since progressed to 1-on-1 drills, but he did play 3-on-3 after the Rockets practiced on Thursday afternoon. After missing a total of six games through his first two NBA seasons, Tate has played in just 3-of-33 games this season, and the Rockets miss his steady presence on both ends of the floor.

“He’s moving around pretty good and playing some 1-on-1,” Silas said. “Trying to get back into basketball shape, so looks like it’s gonna be pretty soon, hopefully, whatever pretty soon means.”

Next up

The Rockets will hit the road for three games, starting with the front end of a back-to-back on Monday night against the Chicago Bulls.

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