The Houston Rockets are focused on improving offensively this season, but it’s their trademark defense that has them off to their best start in 11 years. The Dallas Mavericks haven’t lost their scoring touch from 2006-07.
On Monday, the division rivals meet for the first time this season in Dallas, where the Mavericks are coming off one of the best shooting games in franchise history.
Dallas (2-1), which averaged 100 points per game last season and had the league’s fifth-best shooting percentage at 46.7, rolled past Sacramento 123-102 on Saturday. The Mavs shot 65.2 percent - just shy of their best-ever mark of 67.7 set in 1983 - and connected on seven 3-pointers.
“We did a pretty good job of reading the defense once we got the ball in our hands,” coach Avery Johnson said. “Our spacing was good in transition, guys were running hard and we had pretty good play out of all our guards tonight.”
Josh Howard, who missed the first two games because of a suspension, scored 27 points while J.J. Barea scored a career-high 25 in place of the injured Devin Harris. Barea, in his second season, was 9-of-11 from the field and made all four 3-point attempts. He also had five assists.
Barea was limited late in the game due to leg cramps, but his second career start impressed teammate Dirk Nowitzki.
“Every time he comes in, he’s like a fresh breeze of energy,” said Nowitzki, who was 9-of-11 for 24 points.
Dallas bounced back from an ugly 101-94 loss to Atlanta the previous day. The Mavericks opened their season with an 18-point win over Cleveland on Wednesday.
Dallas was 3-1 against the Rockets last season, including two wins at home. The Mavs have won four straight and 11 of the last 14 meetings at the American Airlines Center.
Dallas, however, is expecting a tougher challenge from Houston (3-0) this time.
“We have Houston on Monday night and they are playing well in Rick Adelman’s system,” guard Jason Terry said. “Obviously, Tracy McGrady and Yao Ming are a big part of what they do, but their role players have been the ones stepping up.”
Adelman is looking to improve the Rockets’ offensive game after the team averaged 97 points last season, yet had the fourth-worst field-goal percentage (44.5) in the league.
The Rockets haven’t made a leap offensively yet, averaging 96.7 points, but they’re 3-0 for the first time since the 1996-97 season when they won their first six games and finished 57-25. The fast start is due in large part to defense, as Houston is allowing 89.3 points per game - fifth fewest in the NBA.
The Rockets gave up an average of 92.1 points last season, third-best in the league.
Houston beat Portland 89-80 on Saturday despite shooting 39.6 percent from the field. The Rockets held the Trail Blazers to 40.8 percent shooting and outscored them 40-22 in the paint.
Yao Ming had 21 points and 12 rebounds, while Tracy McGrady added 20 points and six assists for Houston. The rest of the starters combined for just 17 points.
Mike James had 17 points to lead Houston’s reserves, who outscored Portland’s bench 31-14.
Unlike the previous two games when they fell behind early, the Rockets jumped out to a 18-4 lead and built the advantage to 22 early in the second quarter.
The Rockets held the Blazers to 12 points in the opening period.
“We came out better,” McGrady said. “The last two games, we’ve been kind of flat. For the most part, we came out ready to roll in that first quarter.”