In the past, the Houston Rockets would sometimes fall victim to so-called trap games, losing against subpar teams.
This season these Rockets have largely avoided such losses, and they did so again on Sunday night with a 104-97 win over the short-handed Dallas Mavericks.
"That's the difference between 50 wins and 60-plus and average teams and great teams," James Harden said. "We're not where we want to be, but that's the goal."
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Harden scored 27 points, Chris Paul added 25 and the Rockets easily handled Mavericks for their eighth straight win and 12th in the last 13.
"There's different ways on different nights and you've just got to find ways to win," Harden said. "Tonight was one of those games."
The Rockets led for most of the game, but the Mavericks kept it close until a couple of runs in the third quarter allowed Houston to pull away.
They were up by 12 to start the fourth quarter and led 93-77 after four straight points by Nene early in the quarter. Yogi Ferrell had the next seven points, highlighted by a 3-pointer he made before crashing to the ground as he was fouled, to cut the lead to 93-84 with about eight minutes remaining.
Houston scored the next five points, with a basket from Paul just before the shot clock expired followed by a 3 from Harden that spurred Dallas coach Rick Carlisle to call a timeout with about six minutes left.
But the Mavericks, who were playing their first game this season without Dirk Nowitzki, didn't threaten again and most of the Rockets' starters were soon on the bench with the game in hand.
"It's a lot to ask (them) to come in here and win the game," Carlisle said of his injury-plagued team. "But to basically compete the whole way and hang around and make them play ... was good. I thought our guys got better tonight."
Paul had nine assists and eight rebounds and Harden had five assists and six rebounds.
Ferrell scored 20 points for the Mavs, who have lost eight of 10. Dwight Powell had 18 points and 12 rebounds.
The Rockets were up by two early in the third quarter when they used an 8-2 run to make it 68-60 with about 8 1/2 minutes left in the quarter.
Powell scored four points in a row later in the third to get Dallas within 5. Harden made two free throws after that before both teams went cold, with nobody scoring for the next 2 1/2 minutes.
Maximilian Kleber ended the drought with an alley-oop to cut the lead to 76-71 with about three minutes left.
Houston got back on track after that, using an 8-2 spurt to make it 84-73 with less than a minute left in the quarter. Eric Gordon got things going in that stretch with a 3-pointer, and Paul scored the last five points.
Ferrell added a basket for Dallas after that, but Gordon capped the third quarter with another 3 to leave Houston up 87-75 entering the fourth.
Mavericks: Nowitzki stayed in Dallas because of a swollen left ankle. ... Wesley Matthews didn't make the trip because of tightness in his lower back.
Rockets: Trevor Ariza missed his seventh straight game with a strained left hamstring. ... Clint Capela added 16 points, 11 rebounds and three blocks.
SAVE `EM UP:
Paul wasn't annoyed that rookie Dennis Smith Jr. aggressively blocked a throwaway shot he took after the whistle midway through the third quarter. But the 32-year-old veteran did have some advice for the 20-year-old.
"I just told him: `Don't waste your jumps,"' Paul said. "We've all got a certain amount of jumps in our knees. We don't know what that number is but we've all got a number. ... I save all my jumps. I ain't got too many left."
HE SAID IT:
Houston coach Mike D'Antoni on the progress of his team: "We've got to make a run the second half. I'm pleased without being satisfied. We can get better."
Mavericks: Host Sacramento on Tuesday.
Rockets: Visit Minnesota on Tuesday.