How it happened: The only way the Mavericks could consistently stop the Rockets was to send Dwight Howard to the free throw line, and that wasn't nearly enough to overcome the Dallas starters' offensive struggles.
Houston built a 22-point lead in the first half, withstood a Dallas run in the third quarter and rolled to a convincing win over its Interstate 45 rival.
After allowing 61 points in the first half, the Mavs interrupted the Rockets’ rhythm with some zone defense, then halted it by playing Hack-a-Howard midway through the third quarter. Howard (13 points, 16 rebounds) missed six straight free throws at one point, but the Mavs simply never found an answer for his co-star. James Harden torched them for 34 points on 11-of-17 shooting.
Dallas trimmed the deficit to six points with three minutes remaining in the third quarter. At that point, Harden put the Rockets on his back, scoring seven points over the next two minutes to allow Houston to stretch its lead back to double figures.
Nowitzki scored 22 points, but he was only 6-of-15 from the floor before fouling out with 6:11 remaining, essentially sealing the Mavs’ fate. Ellis scored 20 points, but he needed 19 shots to do it, knocking down only seven.
The Mavs shot 38 percent from the floor, including an 0-of-8 outing for point guard Jose Calderon. A late flurry of five 3-pointers by Jae Crowder made the score seem respectable, but the starters on both sides were sitting and watching by then.
What it means: This certainly didn’t do anything to change the perception that the Mavs shouldn’t be considered legitimate contenders in the Western Conference. They’ll head home with a 1-1 record entering Saturday night’s game against the Memphis Grizzlies. The 2-0 Rockets opened with a pair of convincing victories at home before traveling to Utah.
Play of the game: Harden attacked in transition, making sure to draw contact from Nowitzki before going up for an and-1 layup with 6:11 remaining. That stretched the Rockets’ lead to 13 and caused Nowitzki to sit down the rest of the night. Nowitzki’s last two fouls both came on Harden layups in transition.
Stat of the night: Ellis was 2-of-12 on jumpers from 18 feet and farther and 5-of-7 on shots in the paint.