Rockets go small to hold off Mavericks

James Harden and Russell Westbrook combined for 67 points and the undersized Houston Rockets squared their season series against the visiting Dallas Mavericks with a 128-121 win Friday at Toyota Center.Harden posted 35 points, a season-high 16 rebounds, six assists and four steals. He drilled a pair of 3-pointers inside the final two minutes to stymie the Mavericks, who cut an 18-point deficit late in the third quarter to 107-104 when Delon Wright converted a wide-open layup with just under seven minutes remaining.Dallas, playing without All-Star guard Luka Doncic (right ankle sprain), stayed in the fight until Harden closed out the victory with his precision shooting.Westbrook added 32 points, six rebounds, nine assists and three steals. The Rockets nearly played Dallas to a draw on the glass despite featuring no one capable of keeping Mavericks center Kristaps Porzingis (35 points, 12 rebounds) in check.Curiously, the Mavericks rallied with Porzingis on the bench, as Seth Curry (16 points) and Wright played feature roles.Tim Hardaway Jr. added 15 points for the Mavericks. Eric Gordon tallied 17 points for Houston.With center Clint Capela sidelined by a heel contusion, the Rockets leaned fully into playing small. That strategy included starting undersized power forward P.J. Tucker at center and spacing the floor on offense.But in order for that gambit to work, the Rockets had to thrive from the perimeter, and they did, connecting on 8 of 14 3-pointers in the opening period to get rolling.Harden wasn’t part of that early barrage, missing 6 of 7 shots in the first quarter. But Harden warmed up in the second, scoring 14 points on 4-of-8 shooting, including three treys.Dallas had Porzingis to thank for keeping the game close. He had 17 points by the break and combined with Dorian Finney-Smith to grab five offensive rebounds in the second period after the Mavericks failed to snag one of their errant attempts.Houston led by just five at the break despite shooting a robust 12 of 23 from deep. When the Rockets’ shooting lagged early in the fourth, the Mavericks rallied.