The Beard Also Rises

One of the first things I learned after becoming a Mavericks fan was that I hated the Rockets. While I didn’t necessarily even know who any of the players were off the top of my head at that time, I had no choice but to hate them. The second fate chose the Mavericks for me before this season started, I instantly noticed a deep dislike for the city of Houston, NASA, and unruly beards. When I found out that all Mavericks fans hate the Rockets, I finally understood why I had suddenly developed those feelings.

I got my first taste of the Mavericks-Rockets rivalry earlier this season, when the two teams met on November 14, and it was something of a disappointment. Dwight Howard didn’t play, Chandler Parsons didn’t play, Dirk Nowitzki didn’t play, and Wes Matthews didn’t play — it was basically a matchup of the two teams’ ball boys. Surprisingly, the Mavs went nuts and won the game, Raymond Felton danced, and Kevin McHale got fired. While the second matchup failed to provide me with an appearance from Howard, the game was much more competitive this time. It just didn’t end the right way, and the Rockets finished Friday night with the exact opposite record (9-11) of the Mavericks (11-9). Fun fact: the last time the two teams played, the same thing happened, as the Mavs went to 6-4 after the game and the Rockets dropped to 4-6.

This was a tightly contested game the whole way through, as neither team ever led by more than 12 points. Looking at the final numbers, nothing jumps out at me as a decisive advantage for either side, but it was Houston that came out on top. If anything tilted the scales in their favor, it was the slight edge in offensive rebounds, which resulted in 18 second chance points, while the Mavericks only managed 12. It would also have benefited Dallas greatly not to shoot 27.6 percent from three-point range, but that topic is just about worn out right now. No, the Mavericks can’t buy a three, and I’m more than a little tired of waiting for what I can only hope is going to be some serious regression to the mean.

Loss aside, a game this close is always entertaining, and the Mavericks really didn’t play that poorly. Deron Williams scored 22 points and dished out 6 assists while knocking down four three-pointers, and Nowitzki was solid with a 16-point, 10-rebound, 4-assist effort of his own. I also really liked bringing in Parsons off the bench, as that annoying minutes restriction feels like less of a burden when he can finish games instead of start them. That statement comes with the qualifier that I can’t confidently sign off on a starting lineup that includes Williams, Matthews, and Raymond Felton. I know the Mavs love their small ball, but a three-guard lineup with Felton just irks me. I suppose I’d better get over it, as the starting five that Rick Carlisle ran out for this game is actually the lineup he’s gone with the most this season, and the numbers don’t even indicate it’s a bad choice.

James Harden was, of course, the biggest factor for the Rockets. He may not always be the most efficient scorer, and his defense is universally panned, but the man behind the beard puts up numbers most players could only dream of. Tonight he was his usual self, scoring 25 points and throwing in 8 rebounds and 9 assists on the side. He shot just 1-for-6 from downtown, and the Mavericks did a great job of limiting him to just six free throws, but his impact on the game was about as hard to miss as the giant beard he’s become so well known for. Clint Capela was a pest as well, pulling down five offensive rebounds and swatting away two shots. He may not be Howard, but he definitely plays his role nicely.

So the two teams are deadlocked at one win a piece in the head-to-head matchup this season, and I’d be lying if I said I didn’t want the Rockets to go on a little run. If they finish the year as disappointing as they’ve started it, the rivalry I’ve never gotten to experience before won’t have any emotion behind it. I want dramatics, meaningful games, on-court scuffles, and maybe even a playoff rematch. None of this can happen if Houston fades into obscurity this season, so while I obviously have to hate them as a Mavericks fan, they have to succeed to some level for the rivalry to mean anything.

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