Without James Harden, the Rockets had a brilliant victory over the Kings on Saturday. Without Luka Doncic the Mavericks hit the Bulls in Chicago. But for their first game of the season in Houston, they were both. Harden and Doncic. Two members of the Best Quintet from last season, third and fourth in the MVP vote behind Giannis Antetokounmpo and LeBron James. And the victory individual and collective (100-113) went to Doncic which allows his team to breathe and leaves both in negative and with three losses, the Rockets in five games (2-3) the Mavs in seven (3-4).
Rick Carlisle harassed by his team’s defensive weakness moved the quintet. He took out Dwight Powell and above all he took out Tim Hardaway whom he once introduced to unleash the best offensive version of the Mavs. And he put Maxi Kleber and Willie Cauley-Stein into a much larger unit in which Dorian Finney-Smith became a forward and not power forward.
The result was excellent due to the work of the new inside game … and the attitude of Hardaway who far from being ill to go to the bench, was absolutely key in the victory on a bright night: 30 points, 8/10 in triples. Doncic’s perfect squire Kristaps Porzingis is in the dry dock who played his best game of the season. With a difference: 33 points, 16 rebounds, 11 assists. The mole, 8 losses and a 3/10 in triples, a section in which it went from more to less (3/7 in the first part) and in which it is still irregular. But a great game in which a version of Doncic more similar to last season was finally unleashed.
James Harden was a shadow at least for his usual production level: 21 points, 3 rebounds, 10 assists, and too many shots (5/17). Little weight when his team needed him the most and he was little accompanied by more than 20 points from Eric Gordon and 23 with 7 rebounds from a Christian Wood that was also below previous performances. Like John Wall, who stayed at 14 + 4 + 4 with only four baskets in play (4/10). Worse was DeMarcus Cousins, sent off for two techniques in three minutes. First a scuffle with Cauley-Stein, then another with the referees.
The Mavs dominated the game from a powerful first quarter (21-33). But they had to sweat to close a finally clear triumph. After opening a gap almost halfway through the third quarter (56-72) they received a 14-0 (70-72) run that equalized a game that reached 85-85 with ten minutes to go. There the Rockets broke, who missed eleven of their next twelve shots and were 92-106, with Harden off and a fatal succession of misses and losses while Hardaway saved the victory for Carlisle.
After the win, the Mavs coach acknowledged that Luka Doncic is almost optimally at peak. That the Slovenian is coming.
This was his 26th triple-double in the NBA. With less than 22 years he leads the league in the history of overwhelming Magic Johnson and Ben Simmons follow with 25… between the two. Since he arrived in the United States Doncic has added three matches of at least 30 + 15 + 10, something that only two other players have achieved in that stretch a couple of times each Giannis Antetokounmpo and Nikola Jokic. And a statistic that with less than 22 years only signed once each Oscar Robertson and Magic Johnson.
Donciche has surpassed 1,000 assists and is the fourth-fastest player to reach 1,000 points 1,000 rebounds and 1,000 basket passes. He has done it in 139 games. LeBron needed 158, more than he and more than Oscar Robertson (98) Ben Simmons (126), and Magic Johnson (126). The last one, for now, Doncic is already (39 to 38 of the legendary Dirk Nowitzki the player who has led the Mavericks the most times in points rebounds, and assists in the same game. And he has just started his third season in the NBA.