"It's one of those games where you have to force yourselves to have the juice to start," said Mike D'Antoni after the game. "We were flat and they weren't. They punched us good and we fell all the way back and a lot of times when you do that, you run out of gas."
You can find reasons for why the Rockets didn't have it tonight - 2:30 p.m. start time, coming off an emotional game in Los Angeles a couple days prior, etc... However for a team that's trying to win a championship this season, all of these reasons would qualify as excuses. The Mavericks are a young, good team that's on the rise, but considering Houston's dry spell against contenders going into this game, this one was a must-win. The Rockets have now lost three games in a row and have only two wins against teams above a .500 winning percentage.
"We allowed them to do whatever they wanted to do (offensively) from the beginning of the game," said James Harden. "When you give a team like that comfort and the ability to do whatever they want, they gain confidence and that's what they did."
Luka Doncic continued his MVP-worthy play against the Rockets, tallying 41 points, 10 assists, 6 rebounds, 2 steals, and 1 blocked shot. P.J. Tucker did as good as job as you can against Doncic, but to no avail. Kristaps Porzingis also did a fantastic job at detering drives for Houston and defending at the rim. To go along with the defense, Porzingis logged 23 points, 13 rebounds, 2 steals, and 1 block on 9 of 17 shooting from the field and 2 of 5 shooting from three-point range.
"Listen, Porzingis this whole week has been phenomenal," said Maverick head coach Rick Carlisle. "His all-around game, his defensive rim protection, rebounding outlet game, and then he's backing it up with a great offensive game."
All of the attention will be on the shooting disparity (Houston shot 10 of 44 from three-point range and Dallas shot 17 of 44) and even D'Antoni alluded to it, but there were a ton of things defensively Houston could have done to win this game.
"We got a lot of work to do, but I've seen flashes of it being good," said D'Antoni about Houston's defense. "Tonight wasn't one of them. It's just one of those things where we got a little skid going and we have to right the ship and get back."
Star of the game: Despite the 3-game winning streak, Clint Capela continued on with his slate of awesome stat-lines. Capela logged 21 points and 22 rebounds on 10 of 16 shooting. A big reason for Houston's run were Capela's follow-up dunks off of Russell Westbrook missed layups in transition.
Honorable mention: P.J. Tucker was particularly great defensively to end the third quarter and to start the fourth quarter. Tucker's physical defense on the low-block is partially the reason Houston was able to come back to make it a 5-point game in the fourth quarter. Tucker tallied 16 points, 5 rebounds, 2 steals, and 1 block on 7 of 10 shooting from the field and 2 of 5 shooting from three-point range.
Key moment: Houston's first quarter put them in a hole that felt insurmountable. They allowed 45 points and only countered with 29. They made mini-runs sporadically throughout the game, but the Rockets were never able to fully recover after that.
"Our defensive was not where it needed it to be from the beginning of the game," said P.J. Tucker. "We knew they were one of the best first half teams in the league. We had to assert ourselves early and we didn't."
Up next: The Rockets continue their homestand and play the Miami Heat at 7:00 p.m. on Wednesday.
It's a new year for the Houston Astros as they return to action for their first game of the spring against the Washington Nationals on Saturday.
Every season we see some adjustments to the roster which means we also see some changes in leadership. As Astros fans, we're all aware of Alex Bregman and Kyle Tucker's contract situations. Breggy could be gone after the season, and Tucker could follow one year later.
Which means it's pretty clear who the leaders of the team will be for the foreseeable future. Not only are these guys two of the best players on the club, but they're also under contract for several more years. In Altuve's case, through the 2029 season. For Yordan, he won't sniff free agency until 2029.
While these guys aren't your typical vocal leaders, they are both highly respected and lead by example. Leadership is something that's front of mind for Yordan this season, according to The Athletic's Chandler Rome.
On Yordan Alvarez the leader, one of two constants in a clubhouse bracing for change and the responsibility he wants to shoulder as a result - https://t.co/sZGlI5taBQ
— Chandler Rome (@Chandler_Rome) February 21, 2024
Another way to be a leader is to do everything you can to be available for your team. Alvarez changed his diet in the offseason hoping it will help him stay healthy this year.
Manager Joe Espada said Alvarez is fully healthy and he plans on playing him earlier than normal this spring.
Currently, Yordan is trending down in games played for three straight seasons. But he's such a great player that he needs fewer games to put up massive numbers.
He finished 3rd in MVP voting in 2022, and he only played in 135 games out of a possible 162.
So with that in mind, how many games does Yordan need to play this year to win an MVP?
Plus, who's going to protect him in the lineup? With new manager Joe Espada in place, it's hard to know what the lineup will look like.
One thing we do know, Espada immediately named Josh Hader his closer when spring training began. He also told the media that he wants Jeremy Pena to know where he's going to hit every day when he comes to the ballpark.
Espada values players knowing their roles, and getting comfortable in their routines. Something very different from last season when manager Dusty Baker moved Pena all over the lineup throughout the season.
So what does all this mean for Yordan?
Be sure to watch the video above as we break it all down!
Catch Stone Cold 'Stros (an Astros podcast) every Monday on SportsMapHouston's YouTube channel.