At this point, the phrase "losing streak" doesn't do the Houston Rockets justice. Anyone who just started watching Rockets this week might think they've been commissioned by North Korean dictator Kim Jong-un. Houston has mixed close losses with clear defeats along the way, and now it no longer control its playoff destiny. On Wednesday it had the game in hand heading into the fourth quarter, and then the grizzled playoff veterans on the Mavericks snatched it away like candy from a (post-season) baby. Dirk Nowitzki pumped in 21 of his game-high 35 points in the final period and Dallas seized a 117-110 win.
All five Rockets starters -- Chandler Parsons (12), Luis Scola (18), Marcus Camby (11), Courtney Lee (16) and Goran Dragic (20) -- scored in double figures, while Kyle Lowry (11) and Chase Budinger (14) chipped in to make it seven Houston players hitting that mark in total. Unfortunately, nearly all of that group front-loaded its effort into the first three periods. Dragic hit his first six shots and dished out all 10 of his assists before the fourth quarter, and Scola saved 12 of his 18 points for a third-quarter run that put the team up 84-78 heading into the penultimate period. Then the collapse came.
Some great analysis of what turned the contest in the fourth quarter comes from Rob Mahoney of The Two Man Game:
The strategic turn of the game came when the Mavericks -- who had been torched by Houston's perimeter shooting since the early stages of the first quarter -- began switching on every pick and roll. The Rockets immediately looked to exploit that fact by involving Brandan Wright (four points, five rebounds) in mandatory switches and then looking to exploit him off the bounce, but Wright did a fantastic job of getting down into a defensive stance and rebuffing dribble penetration. Similarly, Jason Kidd (12 points, 4-7 3FG, eight assists, one turnover) was as brilliant in denying the post as can be expected. ... Houston warily tried to attack what they initially perceived as created mismatches, only to fall back into a less aggressive offense and let Dallas switch without penalty.
A relentless cascade of big plays from Dirk simply overwhelmed the Rockets at the last. The sheer weight of Nowitzki's fourth quarter effort speaks for itself:
|Dirk Nowitzki's 4th Quarter (12 Min, 21 Points on 4-6 FGs and 11-11 FTs)|
|88-85||Dirk Nowitzki makes 25-foot three-point jumper (Vince Carter assists)|
|90-88||Dirk Nowitzki makes 24-foot three-point jumper (Jason Kidd assists)|
|94-101||Dirk Nowitzki makes driving layup (Jason Kidd assists)|
|94-102||Dirk Nowitzki makes free throw 1 of 1|
|98-103||Dirk Nowitzki makes free throw 1 of 2|
|98-104||Dirk Nowitzki makes free throw 2 of 2|
|100-108||Dirk Nowitzki makes free throw 1 of 2|
|100-109||Dirk Nowitzki makes free throw 2 of 2|
|103-110||Dirk Nowitzki makes free throw 1 of 2|
|103-111||Dirk Nowitzki makes free throw 2 of 2|
|107-113||Dirk Nowitzki makes layup (Jason Terry assists)|
|107-114||Dirk Nowitzki makes free throw 1 of 2|
|107-115||Dirk Nowitzki makes free throw 2 of 2|
|110-116||Dirk Nowitzki makes free throw 1 of 2|
|110-117||Dirk Nowitzki makes free throw 2 of 2|
He was sparkling on spot ups, swift on drives and even sweetened it all with a back-door spin and cut around Dragic on a layup for his last field goal of the night. Sprinkle in smaller contributions from Jason Terry, Vince Carter and Jason Kidd -- which added up to 64.7 percent shooting, nine assists on 11 made baskets and just one turnover for the team -- and that's how the Mavs outscored the Rockets 39-26 in the final period to claim their victory.
Meanwhile, Luis Scola literally did nothing but commit fouls in his final six-minute stint, while Goran Dragic coughed up more turnovers (1) than he dished out assists (0) and the bench trio of Kyle Lowry, Patrick Patterson and Chase Budinger kept the game within "close, but not-good-enough" range, which is probably better than the "total meltdown" alternative as a matter of degree on the team's failure.
Nevertheless, the Rockets still did fail. Houston has lost five straight games and they dropped out of the Western Conference playoff bracket on earlier in the week on Monday, but James Harden smoked the Phoenix Suns with a career-high 40 points on Wednesday to give them a bit of hope for the rest of the season. As for the Mavs, they slid back into the No. 6 slot as the Denver Nuggets lost to the Clippers.
For all of Wednesday's NBA box scores, check out SI.com's NBA scoreboard.