James Harden, Rockets Earn 8th Straight Victory with Win vs. Luka Doncic, Mavs

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James Harden, Rockets Earn 8th Straight Victory with Win vs. Luka Doncic, Mavs
Houston Rockets guard James Harden (13) celebrates after sinking a basket and being fouled by Dallas Mavericks' Jalen Brunson, left rear, in the first half of an NBA basketball game in Dallas, Sunday, March 10, 2019. (AP Photo/Tony Gutierrez)

Tony Gutierrez/Associated Press

The red-hot Houston Rockets extended their winning streak to eight and further solidified their grip on the Western Conference’s No. 3 seed with a dramatic 94-93 victory over the Dallas Mavericks on Sunday at American Airlines Center.

Dallas has lost five in a row and is an ugly 1-10 in its last 11 games but had an opportunity to win at the buzzer before Chris Paul swatted Jalen Brunson’s jumper to clinch Houston’s win.

Eric Gordon spearheaded the scoring effort for the Rockets with 26 points behind five three-pointers, while James Harden finished with 20 points, five rebounds and four assists. Clint Capela notched a double-double inside with 17 points and 12 boards.

Luka Doncic continued his march to the Rookie of the Year for the Mavericks and stuffed the stat sheet with 19 points, 15 rebounds, nine assists, two steals and two blocks.

             

Red-Hot Rockets Once Again Warriors’ Biggest Obstacle in Western Conference

The Golden State Warriors are a mere 4-5 in their last nine games, leaving the door open for a potential Western Conference challenger.

Houston was more than just a challenger when it was ahead 3-2 in last year’s Western Conference Finals with home-court advantage looming in Game 7. However, Paul’s hamstring injury derailed the Rockets, as the Warriors proceeded to win two straight and then sweep the Cleveland Cavaliers in the NBA Finals.

The Rockets were left wondering what could have been, especially when they started slowly this season with Paul and Capela both sidelined by injuries. Harden had to carry the offense by himself, which led to incredible individual accolades but inconsistent team success.

Paul and Capela are now back, which has taken the pressure off Harden and created a scenario where the team can rely on pick-and-rolls, lob passes and two ball-handling guards who can break down a defense when the game is hanging in the balance.

The result is eight straight wins, with four of them coming against realistic contenders in the Warriors, Boston Celtics, Toronto Raptors and Philadelphia 76ers.

Houston is also 3-0 against Golden State this season, which figures to breed confidence leading into a potential Western Conference Finals rematch. While the Denver Nuggets are the No. 2 seed in the standings, the Rockets are the true threat after the Warriors’ 17-point dismissal of the Nuggets in a reality-check game on Friday.

It was a reminder to a Denver team that hasn’t even made the playoffs since the 2012-13 campaign that it isn’t ready to compete with the champions just yet.

The Rockets proved they are ready in last year’s battle and have been again in all of their head-to-head showdowns this season.

They also have Paul, who is a nine-time All-Defensive selection, to at least make Stephen Curry work for his shots as a physical presence who can hound him over the course of a seven-game series. They have been battling each other throughout their entire careers, and Paul’s block on Sunday served as a reminder of what he is capable of on that end.

It capped off a game that saw Dallas turn it over 16 times and shoot 28.1 percent from deep.

That the Rockets won with defense against the Mavericks is no surprise considering they are sixth in the league in defensive rating in the last eight games. That stands in stark contrast to their 24th ranking for the entire season, per NBA.com, and is a testament to Capela protecting the rim and Paul bothering ball-handlers.

Capela can also battle Draymond Green and DeMarcus Cousins on the inside, while Houston can make Curry work on the defensive side by targeting him in pick-and-rolls with Harden and forcing him to switch on to the reigning MVP. Every ounce of energy Curry uses on defense is that much less he has for his perimeter shooting.

The Rockets are playing with a renewed defensive effort and two perimeter forces to take over in crunch time. The Nuggets may be the No. 2 seed, but Houston is the only true threat to the champs.

             

What’s Next?

Both teams are home for their next game with the Rockets facing the Charlotte Hornets on Monday and the Mavericks playing the San Antonio Spurs on Tuesday.

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