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Three observations from the Rockets’ loss to the Mavericks

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An ejection. Bad defense. And a stagnant offense led to the Houston Rockets’ 113-100 loss to the Dallas Mavericks on Monday. 

Dallas Mavericks v Houston Rockets Photo by Cato Cataldo/NBAE via Getty Images

Here are three observations from the Houston Rockets’ 113-100 defeat to the Dallas Mavericks, Monday night inside the Toyota Center in Houston.

Luka Doncic and Tim Hardaway Jr. combined for 63 points

Stephen Silas has made defense his top priority as head coach of the Rockets. And through the first five games, the Rockets only responded once. Houston has allowed 110 points or more in four of their first five games. Their latest defensive blunder took place against the Mavericks.

Luka Doncic torched the Rockets for his first triple-double of the season (30 points, 16 rebounds, and 11 assists), shooting 60 percent from inside the perimeter. But it was the performance of Tim Hardaway Jr. that ended the Rockets’ two-game win streak. Hardaway scored a season-high 30 points (78.6% FG, 80.0% 3PT) — with 13 coming in the fourth quarter.

Silas said the defensive game-plan was to make Hardaway put the ball on the floor in an attempt to force him off the arc. Instead, seven of his eight triples came on catch-and-shoot attempts.

“Tim Hardaway got hot. I’ve seen it time and time again when I was on the other side when he is allowed to just catch-and-shoot. We were close to him, but we did not make him put the ball on the floor, and he got into a rhythm tonight.” — Silas

Hardaway’s ability to shoot from the outside left the Rockets’ defense in a snafu state throughout the game. If Houston sagged off or helped in penetration, the Rockets risked leaving Hardaway open for an uncontested three.

If they played Hardaway too close, it left the lane open for Doncic to convert an easy basket. This defensive sequence displays how Doncic was able to take John Wall one-on-one with P.J. Tucker’s decision to stay home on Hardaway. Tucker committed a little to prevent Doncic from driving to the basket, but his effort in help defense was weak.

A stagnant offense led to too much iso-ball

The Rockets had their worst shooting performance of the season thus far. Houston missed their first four shot attempts and ended the game shooting 39.0 percent from the field, 27.5 percent from behind the arc. After the game, a disappointed Silas credited Houston’s struggles to a stagnant offense. He said there was too much “isolation-ball” as his players reverted to old habits.

The Rockets ended the night with 17 assists as a team— far from the 23.2 they averaged through the first four games. It seemed the only time the Rockets moved the ball was to find Christian Wood on either a pick-and-roll or lob.

“It’s like I’ve been saying for years since I’ve been here, ‘for us to win a championship, we just cannot play that way.’ We gotta be able to move the ball and maximize everyone who steps on the floor and play for one another better. I know it is just one game and it is still early in the season. But we have to continue improving in that area for sure.” — Gordon

DeMarcus Cousins’ ejection

With 9:08 remaining in the second quarter, DeMarcus Cousins scored his second basket on the night. Before getting back on defense, he gave an official an “overt” gesture that resulted in a technical foul. Since this was Cousins’ second technical, his night was over. Cousins exited the game after playing less than three minutes (2:53), and his absence left an impact on the team.

Had Cousins kept his cool, perhaps his availability would have improved the Rockets’ chances to come out victorious against the Mavs. Dallas out-rebounded Houston 57-41, with 10 boards coming on the offensive end. The Rockets also allowed 38 points in the paint with Wood their only rim protector.

But in the few minutes Cousins played, the game started to turn in Houston’s favor. The Rockets cut the Mavericks’ 12-point lead down to eight behind Cousins’ contributions on both ends of the floor. He was on the verge of his best game as a Rocket with four points, three rebounds and two blocks by the time of his ejection.

Cousins has not had an opportunity to showcase what he can do as a member of the Rockets. A crowded frontcourt has resulted in Cousins receiving limited minutes through his first two games (12.5 MPG). But the four-time All-Star has made the most of his minutes, similar to Monday night.

Two days before the game, Silas said Cousins’ minutes will fluctuate depending on their opponents for the night. And with their next few meeting against Myles Turner, Anthony Davis, Marc Gasol and LaMarcus Aldridge, Cousins should see an increase in his minutes. But hopefully, he can control his emotions in the process.