By KRISTIE RIEKEN AP Sports Writer
HOUSTON (AP) — Dallas coach Rick Carlisle didn’t want his team to get overexcited about its convincing victory over the Houston Rockets on Sunday.
He was, however, quick to note the importance of the victory.
“This is a big win. There’s no question about that,” Carlisle said. “You come in here, this is a big-time place to play and you’re playing against great players. So our guys deserve credit but this is a process and it’s day by day and week by week and we’ve got to continue to go for daily improvement.”
Luka Doncic scored 41 points, Tim Hardaway Jr. added a season-high 31 and the Mavericks never trailed in the 137-123 romp.
The Mavericks scored 45 points in the first quarter and were up 78-60 at halftime. Hardaway had 19 in the half, Doncic 17 and Kristaps Porzingis 15.
“That first quarter killed us,” Houston’s P.J. Tucker said.
James Harden was asked what Houston did wrong defensively.
“Everything,” he said. “We allowed them to do whatever they wanted to do from the beginning of the game and when you give a team like that comfort … they gain confidence. And that’s what they did.”
The Mavericks has won five straight, scoring at least 137 in the last three. Houston has lost three straight after winning eight in a row.
Dallas knew that the Rockets had a quick turnaround after playing a game in Los Angeles on Friday night and focused on getting off to a good start.
“It was important,” Hardaway said. “We wanted to make sure we came out of the gate with some firepower, some energy.”
The Mavericks got a dunk from Dwight Powell to push the lead to 11 early in the fourth quarter. Houston used a 6-0 run after that shot to get to 110-105 with 9 minutes to go.
Doncic ended the run with a jump shot, but Russell Westbrook added a basket seconds later to cut it to five again.
Dallas was still up by 5 later in the quarter before scoring the next five points, with a dunk from Hardaway, to make it 119-109 midway through period, and Houston didn’t get close again.
James Harden had 32 points for Houston but was just 2 of 15 on 3-pointers in a game where the Rockets made 10 of 44 3-point attempts.
The Mavericks had extended the lead to 16 later in the fourth when Doncic scored six points in a row, capped by a 3-pointer to make it 132-113 with about 3 1/2 minutes to go.
Dallas led by 20 in the third quarter before Houston scored the next seven points, with a 3-pointer from Tucker, to get to 89-76 midway through the period.
The Mavericks were up by 16 later in the third after two free throws by Dorian Finney-Smith before Tucker made consecutive baskets to cut the lead to 103-91.
Harden added two free throws, but Hardaway made a jump shot seconds later to make it 105-93.
Westbrook made a basket to wrap up the third quarter and cut the lead to 10 entering the fourth.
Mavericks: Seth Curry was back after sitting out the last game because of an illness. … Porzingis finished with 23 points and 13 rebounds. … Doncic had 10 assists and six rebounds. … Doncic and Hardaway made five 3-pointers each.
Rockets: House returned after missing the last game with a sore left shoulder. … Clint Capela had 21 points and 22 rebounds. … Westbrook scored 27 points with six assists and five rebounds.
Hardaway has been an important player for the Mavericks this season after undergoing surgery on his left leg because of a stress fracture in April.
“My leg feels amazing,” Hardaway said. “I’m getting back to my old self and just trying to make the most out of the opportunity right now.”
Sunday was his third straight game with at least 16 points after he had just one such performance in his first 13 games this season.
THEY SAID IT
Houston coach Mike D’Antoni on the team’s start Sunday: “They punched us good and we fall all the way back. A lot of time when you do that, you run out of gas.”
Mavericks: Host the Los Angeles Clippers on Tuesday night.
Rockets: Host Miami on Wednesday night.