The result will rarely be in the Mavericks’ favor when Rockets superstar Harden gets out in transition with the big German as the last line of defense. It was the worst-case scenario twice in the second half of Dallas’ 113-105 loss to Houston on Friday night.
Nowitzki picked up his fifth and sixth fouls on and-1 layups by Harden. No. 5 came with 2 minutes, 18 seconds remaining in the third quarter, part of Harden’s personal 7-0 run that began moments after the Mavs trimmed the deficit to six points. No. 6 occurred with 6:11 remaining in the game and essentially ended the Mavs’ slim comeback hopes.
On both occasions, the crafty Harden made sure to draw contact from Nowitzki before laying the ball in with his left hand.
"I guess I've just got to get out of the way," Nowitzki said. "He’s so great at creating contact, so I've just got to run to the locker room and let him lay it in."
That method would have been almost as effective as Dallas' defense in the first quarter, when the Rockets scored 38 points. Heck, the Mavs' best defense of the night came when they intentionally sent Dwight Howard to the line and he missed six consecutive free throws in the third quarter.
But back to the hacks the Mavs didn't want to happen.
"He was trying to just go straight up or even get out of the way," Dallas coach Rick Carlisle said of Nowitzki. "Harden just came into him and he got the call. I haven’t looked at the replay, but it may be one of those ones that’s debatable. But once the whistle blows, they don’t normally change."
Those calls certainly didn’t cost the Mavs a game in which they trailed by as many as 22 points. They just killed any chance of pulling off a miraculous comeback, the kind that would have required Nowitzki to get red-hot to have any hope of happening.
This wasn’t one of Nowitzki’s better nights, foul trouble or not. He led the Mavs with 22 points, but he was only 6-of-15 from the floor and never found the rhythm with Monta Ellis (20 points, 7-of-19 shooting) that the duo had in Dallas’ season-opening win over the Atlanta Hawks.
Still how many times have we seen Nowitzki catch fire after struggling for a few quarters?
"In six minutes, everything’s possible, so I would have loved to stick around a couple more minutes and try to push," Nowitzki said. "That sixth foul is tough. That fifth one, I probably shouldn’t have reached in. Hey, it is what it is. I can’t even remember the last time I fouled out, but it happened.
"Honestly, we didn’t deserve to win tonight."
It’d been nearly four years since Nowitzki fouled out. It last happened in a Nov. 4, 2009, loss to New Orleans.
However, as Nowitzki noted, his foul trouble ranked down the list of the Mavs’ problems. If you’re dreadful defensively and shoot 38 percent from the floor, your chances of beating a Western Conference contender are slim, whether or not your superstar gets to stick around for the whole game.