Rockets vs Mavericks score, takeaway: James Harden gives up 49 in return to lead Houston to return to win in OT

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To anyone who doubts the potential quality of basketball in the bubble, I submit Friday’s game between the Dallas Mavericks and the Houston Rockets as proof that the NBA won’t miss a beat. In a thrilling overtime fight that featured a double-digit comeback in the fourth quarter, the Rockets knocked out the Mavericks 153-149. The win will be crucial in the standings, as the Rockets now lead the Mavericks by 2.5 games with just seven to play. In all likelihood, that dooms Dallas to a first-round streak against the Los Angeles Clippers.James Harden and Russell Westbrook were the drivers behind Houston’s comeback. The duo have 80 points, 20 rebounds and 16 assists. Danuel House also scored six 3-pointers to back them up, and despite their horrific defense, they managed to defeat a team from Dallas who made 21 3-pointers and got at least 24 points from four separate players (Kristaps Porzingis, Luka Doncic, Tim Hardaway Jr., Trey Burke).

These two teams have a long way to go in terms of conditioning. This track competition proved it. But only on the second day of the bubble did we get what was potentially the game of the year. Here are the main takeaways from Houston’s victory.

Every flaw we assumed the Rockets ever had

The Rockets are the most intentionally flawed championship contender in NBA history. They are fully aware of what they cannot do, and if Friday proved that they can win in spite of themselves, they are still there.

They lost the rebound battle 55-43, and sometimes it looked a lot worse. The Mavericks grabbed 13 offensive rebounds. Houston is not good enough defensively to give so many second chances. Kristaps Porzingis, and to a lesser extent Boban Marjanovic, both shot the smaller Rockets with ease. There is no universe in which allowing 149 points is sustainable or acceptable.

Again, this was by design. The Rockets are betting that their crushing shooting advantage and ability to switch comfortably into defense against enemy shots more valuable is enough to overcome these deficits. But they almost weren’t on Friday. The Rockets don’t need to bounce back like the Bucks to win the Championship, but improvements are still needed if they hope to win the Championship.

James Harden looked faster

As a pilot, Harden thrives primarily on patience and deceleration. Even without being particularly fast, it starts, stops and changes direction so easily that it hardly matters. But on Friday, Harden looked faster than he had before the end of the season. Maybe four months of rest did him good. Considering the enormous offensive load he carries, this interruption could have done him good. The combination of the kind of speed we’ve glimpsed against the Mavericks with his impeccable skill creates an unstoppable scorer.

Dallas still isn’t ready for prime time

The Mavericks have the most efficient offense in NBA history, the third best net score in the Western Conference and two young stars. However, they are still in seventh place in the standings. Why? They have a hard time in the clutch settings. They have now lost 17 games by five points or less and have been outscored by a crazy 16.1 points per 100 possessions in the clutch this season. They are young. They learn. Their list is deeper than heavy. To some extent, clutch struggles were inevitable. But the Mavericks seem to be part of a contender in many ways. Their only flaw was the fourth quarter performance, and that persisted in this game.

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