Smoove operators: Josh Smith, Dwight Howard lead Houston past Dallas to 2-0 series lead

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Josh Smith and Dwight Howard were reliving their old AAU teammates days together.

Smith had seven fourth-quarter assists — five were lobs to Howard for rim-rattling dunks. Most of that came during a 19-4 fourth quarter Houston run where Smith’s passing carved up the slow feet of the Dallas defense. This was an 84-84 game early in the fourth quarter before the Smith-inspired Rocket Run.

Combine that run with 28 points and 12 boards from Howard, plus 24 points from James Harden, and you have a 111-99 Houston win Tuesday in Game 2. That puts the Rockets up 2-0 in the series as it shifts to Dallas — and puts the Mavericks in a must-win situation Friday night in Game 3.

Tuesday night Dallas was without Chandler Parsons due to injury, and they missed his defense on Harden.

This was also a game where — once again — Rajon Rondo was utterly ineffective for Dallas. To the point that after he picked up two fouls and a technical in the first :34 seconds of the second half Mavs coach Rick Carlisle never put him back in the game. Rondo has killed Dallas’ spacing (not just this playoff, since he came to town) and they were better with J.J. Barea on the floor (he had 13 points on 14 shots). Barea came in and Dallas hung around. Rondo was nowhere near his vintage self — he walked the ball up so slowly in the first half he got an eight-second backcourt violation — and after the game Carlisle dodged the questions about Rondo’s impact and how much they play him going forward (Rondo did not speak to the media). If one thing has become perfectly clear in these playoffs it’s that Rondo will not be a Maverick next season. However, in the 36 minutes Rondo has played in the two games in this series, Dallas is -37. If Devin Harris is healthy for Game 3 Rondo may not see the court.

If one thing has become perfectly clear in these playoffs it’s that Rondo will not be a Maverick next season.

Meanwhile, Rockets’ coach Kevin McHale went to his mid-season pickup in Smith and got a monster performance. Remember, this is the Smith that Stan Van Gundy waived and essentially paid to go away from his team.

Smith came in and scored seven straight points at one point in the third quarter, then ran a nice pick-and-roll with Howard, making the pass to set him up (Howard was fouled). Smith finished with nine points in the third quarter, 15 for the game.

Because Smith was feeling it, Tyson Chandler and other Mavs defenders gravitated toward him, and Smith carved up Dallas with his passing. Dallas just had a lot of minus defenders on the floor at the same time in the fourth quarter, and they lost guys and didn’t rotate on Houston cuts. It kept leaving Chandler in an impossible situation — watch Smith dunk, or get in his way and watch him lob to Howard for the dunk. Bottom line is the Mavericks shot 10-of-12 in the paint in the fourth quarter as they put on a dunking exhibition.

Howard, a dominant force early in Game 1, was not the same early in Game 2 — he was 2-of-6 shooting in the first half, had a few rebounds, and picked up two immature fouls that had him on the bench. Clint Capela stepped in with another solid performance in the first half. It was an uneven, back-and-forth first half that ended with Houston up 53-51. It wasn’t exactly art as both teams shot less than 40 percent.

In the third quarter, the Rockets started to find their groove. However, Monta Ellis came on with 11 points in the third quarter for Dallas — including a 30-foot buzzer-beater at the end of the quarter — and the Mavericks were right there, down by one after three. Ellis finished the game with 25 points. Dirk Nowitzki had 10 points on 3-of-14 shooting. It wasn’t the big German’s night.

The fourth quarter was just too much Smith and Howard reliving their glory days. Dallas could not match their energy or execution (the Mavericks shot just 37 percent on the night).

Houston looks to be in control of this series — Dallas would need to win four of five to take it — and while Carlisle may figure out the questions that Houston poses, he may not have the right players to answer.