Dwight Howard, Josh Smith

The Houston Rockets took a big step towards finally winning a playoff series, taking a 2-0 lead over the Dallas Mavericks, winning 111-99 in game 2 behind a great game from Dwight Howard and Josh Smith, while James Harden struggled getting points that weren’t from the free throw line.

Finally healthy, it was interesting to see how much fun Josh Smith and Dwight Howard are having playing together in the NBA. Smith setup Howard for six alley oop dunks, as the Mavericks continue to look miserable in their attempts to stop Howard. Tyson Chandler seems lost, small and weak in comparison, which has happened to him with the Knicks when he didn’t get any help against Roy Hibbert.

Howard finished with 28 points, not getting into any foul trouble this time. He grabbed 12 rebounds as well, while Smith, playing 26 minutes off the bench, scored 15 points. He also had 8 rebounds and 9 assists. Is this the same player the Detroit Pistons preferred simply releasing earlier this season? He has the same name, but the playing style if completely different.

Angry Rick Carlisle

The Mavericks actually grabbed a three-point lead early in the fourth quarter, but while James Harden was trying to shake off his bad shooting night on the bench, the Rockets went on a 11-0 run that including three connections between Smith and Howard in the air. That gave them a 92-84 lead with eight minutes to go, and the Mavericks were never able to get close once again after a very tight game until that point.

And it’s a wonder the Mavericks stayed so close with 37.1% from the field. No Chandler Parsons should have meant a little bit extra from everyone around. But Monta Ellis, shooting 8-of-23 from the field, wasn’t the most inaccurate player of the night. Dirk Nowitzki shot just 3-of-14 from the field. This isn’t just a bad shooting day. The Rockets are making the Mavericks feel uncomfortable offensively on a lot of possessions.

Rajon Rondo isn’t bringing that extra something the Mavs were hoping for when they made a blockbuster trade to add him. Not on defense, and certainly not offensively. He got into foul trouble, and played only 10 minutes. Rick Carlisle felt like his team looked a lot better without the point guard he doesn’t see eye to eye with, which might suggest there’s not a whole lot of future to be had for Rondo in Dallas. The present isn’t great either.

Mark Cuban rebuilt the Mavericks with a plan in mind of challenging for the NBA title in 2015. He made aggressive moves via trades and built an offensive juggernaut, at least early in the season. But fearing the stacked Western conference, he made one more trade that brought over Rondo and seemed to kill the team’s depth chart. It didn’t improve them, and didn’t make them better against the upper echelon of Western teams. The Rockets, even on a bad shooting day from Harden, are a much better team.

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