New coach, same ol' Mavs in 4th quarter

With the game on the line, Ron Artest came to the rescue for Yao Ming and the Houston Rockets.

Artest scored seven points during a 16-2 run late in the fourth quarter that sent the Rockets to a 112-102 victory over the Dallas Mavericks on Thursday night. But that’s not the only way he ingratiated himself to the big guy.

During the spurt, Yao caught an elbow from Dallas’ Josh Howard. When the two started to go face-to-face, Artest came running in between them.

Officials weren’t happy to see Artest and blew the whistle. After huddling, they hit Artest with a technical foul that was probably more for his reputation than for the act itself.

“It happens,” Artest said. “No punches thrown, no cursing at the referees. It was a part of the game type of thing. Somebody threw an elbow at Yao and I just reacted. It’s nothing to get upset about, nothing to hold a grudge about.”

Yao certainly appreciated the support. He even went over to an official to gripe about the technical, saying, “He was trying to separate us.” Yao and Artest then slapped hands and walked away.

“Ron’s a very good teammate,” Yao said. “That happened once in the preseason and he did the same thing. He’s trying to help a teammate, sacrificing himself.”

Yao and Artest were quite a duo with the basketball, too. Yao finished with 30 points and 13 rebounds, and Artest scored 29 as the Rockets won their second game in as many nights.

“Ron was terrific the whole game,” Houston coach Rick Adelman said.

The Mavericks stumbled in the debut of new coach Rick Carlisle.

Dirk Nowitzki scored 36 points and Josh Howard added 28 points and 11 rebounds, but they scored a combined three points on 1-of-6 shooting in the fourth quarter. As a team, Dallas was 6-of-24 in the period.

The Mavericks started the fourth up by one and were tied at 92 when Houston pulled away. Dallas was only able to get within eight after that.

“We will figure it out,” Carlisle said. “You got to be careful about overreacting to one game.”

Through three quarters, the Mavericks showed plenty of the up-tempo offense Carlisle has promised, but not much of the tight defense that’s supposed to trigger it. The Rockets hit 50 points midway through the second quarter and had 85 through three quarters. They had only 82 in their opener at home the night before.

“We put up enough points but we didn’t stop anybody,” Dallas’ Jason Kidd said. “This was a lesson learned.”

Kidd had seven points, seven rebounds and 12 assists. Jason Terry scored 15 points.

Houston’s Tracy McGrady scored 16 points, making only three of 10 shots, and sat out the fourth quarter. He’s still recovering from offseason operations on his left knee and left shoulder. Aaron Brooks, who was supposed to be out one to three weeks with an ankle injury, had 14 points, including a wild 3-pointer that started the key run.

“The doctor said I wasn’t going to do anything worse to it by playing,” Brooks said. “There was a little pain but I played through it. I got retaped at halftime and it was fine.”

Before tipoff, Mavs swingman Jerry Stackhouse addressed the crowd, saying, “It’s gonna be fun, it’s gonna be fast. Put on your seat belts. Let’s do it!” Then Dallas opened the Carlisle era with a 24-second violation.

The Mavericks had three turnovers and three fouls in a little more than 2 minutes. Nowitzki didn’t score the first 6 minutes. But Dallas still managed to score 33 points in the opening period, getting 16 on fast breaks. Kidd set the tempo and Howard helped push it. During a 13-2 run, Howard scored nine points and had an assist. He scored 15 points in the first quarter.

“It was fun,” Howard said. “Guys got out and ran. We just got to get the ball to J-Kidd and he will take care of the rest.”