Dirk Nowitzki's right eye was proof of the intensity between the Dallas Mavericks and Houston Rockets last weekend.
Nowitzki needed four stitches to close a cut for the Mavericks, who defeated the Rockets for the fifth straight meeting as these teams get ready for Tuesday night's rematch in Dallas.
Dallas (28-22) won 101-99 in overtime at Houston (27-23) on Saturday in the Mavericks' most recent game. The contest featured 17 lead changes, 15 ties, a rowdy Rockets crowd and an incident in which Nowitzki was elbowed in the face by Goran Dragic.
"I just had a few stitches and I'm not for sure how it happened but I think it was Dragic and it was really a huge play for us down the stretch," Nowitzki said. "I guess he elbowed me in the face and the ref was right on it, and called the offensive foul. And that was a big play in the game. I thought it was Dragic, but it is what it is."
That was the first of three meetings this season between these Southwest Division teams involved in a tight race to reach the playoffs. The Mavericks are in fifth place in the Western Conference and the Rockets are tied with Utah and Denver for spots seven through nine.
"We're fighting now," Dallas guard Jason Terry said. "We're fighting every night we go out on the floor. Each game is very critical for us, as far as playoff positioning. It's been a tough season, but overall I like the effort of everybody. We're doing what we have to collectively as a group to have success."
Nowitzki scored 31 points and Terry added 14 of his 24 after the third quarter in a game coach Rick Carlisle called the Mavs' "biggest win of the year." The Rockets had all five starters in double figures, with Dragic scoring 24 and Luis Scola adding 19.
While Dallas hasn't played since, Houston comes to town after needing overtime to get past lowly Sacramento 113-106 at home on Monday. Patrick Patterson scored a career-high 24 as the Rockets rallied from a 16-point deficit.
"Patrick played great,'' coach Kevin McHale said. "That's the Patrick that we need to see all the time. He was just fantastic."
Dragic left with about a minute left in overtime with an ankle injury and was helped to the locker room. Dragic said it is a "minor sprain" and that X-rays on it were negative.
The point guard's absence forced Earl Boykins, signed earlier in the day to a 10-day contract, into the game to make four clutch free throws in the final 21 seconds. Boykins finished with 10 points and five assists in his first action of the season.
"This is definitely a unique situation, but when you've been around as long as I have, you know how to prepare to play in the NBA even when you're not in the NBA,'' Boykins said. "It takes a great deal of confidence to give someone the ball who you haven't seen all year (and be) confident that they can make free throws. It's a lot easier to play when your teammates have that kind of confidence."
The last two meetings between these teams have gone to overtime and the previous two matchups were decided by a combined nine points.