Rockets will make Mavs pay for slow start

DALLAS -- The Houston Rockets entertained the Blake Griffin Show Wednesday night. The Dallas Mavericks relaxed. So which team should be more ready to get out of the gates quickly tonight when the Dallas Mavericks shoot for their first three-game winning streak in a month.

However, should is the operative word.

Fast starts have been in short supply for the Mavs, even in their two-high scoring home wins against the two teams from Los Angeles. The Clippers on Tuesday made eight of their first 10 shots and was close to 70 percent from the floor for the entire first half. It wasn't until a second-half surge at both ends -- combined with mindless Clippers turnovers -- before the Mavs got back in the game and took it over.

It's just another aspect of the Mavs' game that took a hike during their injury-plagued swoon and has yet to resurface.

"That's the kind of energy we need to play with to compete in this league," Nowitzki said of the second half when Dallas outscored the Clips, 58-43. "Now, we're just not good enough to coast and win games, so we realize we have to play hard in the first half as well, get some stops, get our running game going, and that's when we're at our best."

So, why has it been so difficult to get things in gear early on?

"I don't know. Maybe focus wasn't there, I can't really tell you what's going on," Nowitzki said. "But, at least we turned it around at the half. Energy was great. Hopefully we can build on that."

One thing about the Rockets, they might not be the team they once were, but they are not the Clippers (which played without leading scorer Eric Gordon) or Saturday's victim, the New Jersey Nets. Both those teams often can't get out of their own way. The Rockets are one of the hardest-playing teams in the league and will make their opponent fight and scrap for everything.

They scored 56 against the Clippers in the first half Wednesday night in Houston and held them 83 points, 22 fewer than the Mavs' defense managed two do two nights earlier. Houston is fourth in the league in scoring (105.3), which without a solid defensive effort from Dallas could be problematic considering the Mavs have scored 100 or more just three times in the last 15 games and have been under 90 in three of them.

However, both of those 100-point games, 109 against the Lakers and a season-high 112 against the Clippers, have come in the last two home games. Houston tends to get off to quick starts and it's a subject Mavs coach Rick Carlisle said he talked to his team about after the Clippers game and again during Wednesday's practice.

"It's an area we need to do better, it's a priority for us right now," Carlisle said. "There's some things -- and a lot of of it is communication, focus. With the team we have been starting, being good defensively is a real key because we have some of our best defensive players in the game. When you don't get off to a good defensive start it puts you in a hole offensively. One thing is kind of a negative feedback thing on the other."