The Houston Rockets are now 2-0 in the Josh Smith 2.0 era.
Sunday afternoon, they hosted the Dallas Mavericks, the team that is now just one game ahead of them in the Western Conference playoff race, and just as they did with Smith in tow in the first round of last year's playoffs, the Rockets ran around Dirk Nowitzki, exploded in transition and won handily, 115-104.
The Rockets went up in the first quarter thanks to 16 points from Trevor Ariza. It's the second straight game he opened the game with a torrid shooting stretch, and both games the Rockets needed it, because no one else really got it going.
As Ariza went to the bench and the group of Ty Lawson, Josh Smith and Marcus Thornton came in, it was apparent how little anyone else could give the team early on: the Mavericks went on a 16-2 run early in the second quarter to go from down 36-29 to up 45-38.
The Rockets continued to plod their way through the rest of the first half and the beginning of the second half, finding themselves the victim of basic pick-and-rolls, scrambling to cover wide-open shooters and having trouble dealing with a 7-foot-2 Tunisian man named Salah Mejri. When Mejri got his fourth foul in third quarter, and when the Mavericks were up 11 points, Houston made its move.
Harden started distributing and attacking — and, crucially, his shots started falling — Josh Smith's backline defense turned up a notch and Corey Brewer started flying in transition. Basically, the 2015 Rockets showed up and blew by the Mavericks in the second half, like the 2015 Rockets did.
J-Smoove looks like he hasn't missed a game. His shot wasn't very good, but, as Kevin McHale said plenty of times last year, as long as he's taking the right shots and playing confidently, he's allowed to miss. And when he's pulling out Dream Shakes on Dirk, it's hard not to stand up and cheer. I know I did.
When the team started running and gunning and pulling away, the Headband of Brothers, plus Ty Lawson and the Beard, was the lineup on the floor: Smith at center, Brewer at the 4, Harden at the 3, Terry at the 2 and Lawson running point. Helped by the Mavericks putting Chandler Parsons as their own small-ball 4, this lineup was everything that worked about the Rockets last year, plus a dose of playmaking from Lawson.
Harden finished the game with a triple-double, 23 points, 15 rebounds, 10 assists and two steals for good measures. Trevor Ariza led all Rockets with 29 points(!) on 6-9 from deep plus three steals. J-Smoove finished with 16 points, 3 rebounds, 2 assists, 2 steals and 2 blocks and Terrence Jones was a -11 in 10 minutes of action, none in the final 20 minutes of the game (when the Rockets made a run).
It's just been two games, but it's already clear that Daryl Morey giving up foreign draft rights to bring Josh Smith back was a brilliant move. When everyone's healthy, who would be surprised to see Terrence Jones with a few DNPs (and potentially a one-way ticket out of town)? Not I. Either way, a win against a team ahead of them in the standings, no matter how it comes, is great news for the 24-22 Rockets.