By Art Garcia, the Sports Xchange
DALLAS — Two nights after the Rockets ran out of gas down the stretch, Houston finished strong in downing the Dallas Mavericks 106-98 Friday night at American Airlines Center.
Trevor Ariza and James Harden combined for 53 points as the Rockets (1-1) evened their record after starting the season with two road games. Houston faltered late in Wednesday’s 120-114 loss at the Los Angeles Lakers.
“It was better. We can still get a lot better, but we didn’t let it happen again,” Harden said after scoring 26. “Some of the mistakes that we made in that first game, we corrected them and we got better at them. The result was different.
“We’re together in this. That second unit did an unbelievable job, especially the start of the fourth quarter pushing the lead up. We got several stops in a row and that’s what we need. The starters got back into the game and closed the game out.”
Dallas (0-2) dropped its home opener for the second consecutive year. The Southwest Division rivals hook up again Sunday in Houston’s home opener.
Ariza repeatedly burned the Mavs from the perimeter, knocking down 5 of 7 3-pointers. He made 8 of 12 attempts overall and all six of his free throws to score 27.
Harden’s move to point guard took another step forward with a game-high eight assists two nights after a career-best 17 against the Lakers. Harden connected on 9 of 18 from the floor, including 4 of 9 on 3s, and grabbed seven boards.
The Mavericks were without an ill Dirk Nowitzki, prompting Rick Carlisle to insert sixth man J.J. Barea into the starting lineup. Dallas, which shot 43.8 percent, certainly missed the NBA’s sixth-leading scorer all-time.
“Without Dirk out there it’s very hard on offense, and we knew that,” Carlisle said, “but it shouldn’t take away from what we’re doing defensively and how tough we’re playing.”
Harrison Barnes slid into Nowitzki’s power forward spot and had a career night. Dallas’ signature offseason signing scored a personal-best 31 points on 13 of 23 shooting.
Barnes never took that many shots in a game in four seasons with Golden State. He’s averaging a team-high 25.0 points and 7.0 rebounds through two games, and shooting 56.8 percent (21-37) from the floor and 50 percent (5-10) from 3-point range.
“I expected Barnes to play extremely well and I think he has a chance to be a very special player,” Carlisle said. “I’ve felt that all along. I like the way he competed tonight. This is what we expect.”
Erick Gordon scored 18 for the Rockets, who made 15 of 32 3-pointers.
After taking 48 3-pointers at Indiana, Dallas launched 29 against Houston. The Mavs made only eight.
Houston began to separate late in the third. A pair of 3-pointers from Harden helped the Rockets take a 10-point lead (77-67) in the final quarter and the Mavericks never threatened again.
“I was in a groove and it was time to close out the quarter,” Harden said. “That’s one of the things we’re preaching. We got to end quarters the right way. We have to close quarters out defensively and score the basketball to give us momentum throughout the entire game.”
The teams traded runs in the first half, with Houston ripping off a 10-0 spurt before the Mavs scored 12 straight. The lead would change hands 17 times before break, as the Rockets took a 52-50 edge into the locker room.
Ariza scored 14 in the first half and Gordon had 12 points. Harden, after missing all five of his shots in the first quarter, scored 10 points late in the second period.
Deron Williams had 13 of his 14 points for the Mavs in the first half. Barea scored 10.
Nowitzki, in his 19th season, missed just his second home opener. The only other absence was 2012-13 when he was recovering from knee surgery.