A win to begin this home-and-home set let the Houston Rockets finally halt the Dallas Mavericks' domination of the series. A victory to close it would further turn the tide and leave these rivals that much closer to having their playoff trends reversed.
Houston can further put the Mavericks' postseason streak in jeopardy and continue its climb up the standings by avoiding a sixth straight loss in Dallas on Wednesday night.
The Rockets (33-28) had lost nine in a row to their Southwest Division rival before rolling to a 136-103 win Sunday. No victory during the Mavericks' streak, including two this season, was decided by more than 10 points.
"We had lost nine straight to them and so it feels good," said Jeremy Lin, who had 21 points and nine assists. "It feels like we got a monkey off our back. We're going to have another tough one at Dallas coming up."
Houston has lost five consecutive trips to Dallas since an overtime win Dec. 18, 2009, a game Dirk Nowitzki left in the second quarter with an injury after scoring five points. That's part of a key trend in this series since the start of 2005-06: Dallas is 22-2 when Nowitzki scores at least 15 points and 1-5 when he doesn't, including two games he missed.
Nowitzki shot 2 for 8 and had eight points Sunday after scoring in double figures in every previous game he had played during 2013.
"We want to get him the ball and we need good things to happen, but the problem was we just couldn't guard these guys," said coach Rick Carlisle, adding that Houston often double-teamed Nowitzki in the first half. "We didn't guard them and that has got to change before Wednesday."
Carlisle's club had a chance to pull within three games of the Rockets for the eighth and final playoff spot in the Western Conference by sweeping this home-and-home series. Instead, a loss Wednesday could drop Dallas (26-33) seven games behind Houston, which jumped a half-game ahead of Utah for seventh when the Jazz lost Monday.
The Rockets could move into a tie for sixth if they win Wednesday and Golden State loses to Sacramento. They haven't been to the playoffs since 2009, and Dallas has qualified every year since 2000.
"We're losing and losing (close) games at home, and those are the games you have to win if you want to be in the playoffs," Nowitzki said. "We haven't shown consistently that we can win big games. We have to fight."
Nowitzki likely can't be badly outplayed by Chandler Parsons again if the Mavs are to avoid a fifth loss in six games.
Parsons scored a career-high 32 and went 12 of 13 from the floor Sunday, hitting six 3-pointers. The second-year forward is averaging 24.3 points in the past four games while shooting 65.0 percent, including 16 for 28 from beyond the arc.
"He got his opportunity great system, great role and really took off with it similar to me in New York," Lin said. "He deserves everything he's getting. There really is no ceiling."
As the Rockets get increased production from Parsons and continued contributions from James Harden, who has scored more than 20 points in 10 straight games, Dallas likely needs Nowitzki and leading scorer O.J. Mayo to step up.
Mayo is averaging 13.1 points in the last eight games. The Mavs are 16-9 when he scores 19 or more, compared to 10-24 otherwise.