Capela looks to lift Rockets by Mavericks

HOUSTON — Although James Harden is again performing at an MVP level and Chris Paul appears revitalized starting alongside in the backcourt, the Rockets continue to thrive in part because of the continued development of their most unheralded contributor: center Clint Capela.

Capela is coming off his first career 20-point, 20-rebound game as the Rockets host the Dallas Mavericks at Toyota Center on Sunday.

Houston won its seventh straight game with a 130-104 dismantling of the Denver Nuggets on Friday and Capela played a big role. Capela produced his 23 points and a career-high 25 rebounds in 29 minutes.

During Houston’s winning streak, Capela is averaging 14.9 rebounds and 13 rebounds on 59.5 percent shooting while producing an offensive rating of 120.5.

Houston (41-13) is 25-1 with Harden, Paul and Capela in the lineup, excelling because Capela has embraced his dual roles as the roll man on offense and rim protector defensively.

“We have high expectations for him,” Rockets guard Eric Gordon said of Capela. “For us to have a chance to win it all he has to be a big part of it. He has to play well every night and we need him. He’s our anchor as far as defensively; we need him to contest everything at the rim. When he has that energy, we’re going to be very tough to beat no matter who we go against.”

Capela is averaging a career-best 1.8 blocks per game and has produced 2.5 defensive win shares already this season, surpassing his 2.1 defensive win shares after 65 games in 2016-17. While Houston stands poised to add former Memphis center Brandan Wright to a reserve center rotation that features Nene and Tarik Black, the Rockets’ titles hopes rest with Capela.

“It just gives us a sense of urgency,” Harden said of Capela playing at the top of his game. “Especially with him running the floor, him creating opportunities for everyone else. It helps everybody on the floor.”

Dallas (18-38) snapped a two-game skid with their 130-123 home win over the Los Angeles Lakers on Saturday night. The victory marked the Mavericks’ second over the past nine games.

Forward Harrison Barnes, sidelined the previous two games with a left ankle injury, returned to the starting line and totaled 21 points and six boards in 27 minutes. Forward Doug McDermott, acquired from the New York Knicks on Thursday, made his Mavericks debut and posted eight points, three rebounds, three assists and a steal in 21 minutes off the bench.

“He is a terrific offensive player and he was a plus for the game,” Mavericks coach Rick Carlisle said of McDermott. “He moves great off the ball and really has one of the quickest releases on his shot I’ve seen. Just a few guys get rid of it that quick, and I think he’s a good mix with the group of guys that we have here. It’s going to be interesting to see him the next 24 games.”

Houston has defeated the Mavericks twice this season, winning its home opener by 16 points on Oct. 21 before recording a 104-97 victory in Dallas on Jan. 24.

The Rockets own a nine-game lead in the loss column over the second-place San Antonio Spurs in the Southwest Division. With their win over the Lakers and the Phoenix Suns loss to the Nuggets, the Mavericks climbed out of the Western Conference cellar and bypassed Phoenix and Sacramento.