With the Rockets trailing the Mavericks by three points in the fourth quarter – and with James Harden on the bench – it looked as though Houston would head to Dallas with its first-round playoff series tied 1-1. Instead, Houston went on an 11-0 run, highlighted by three alley-oop passes from Josh Smith to Dwight Howard, who had 28 points and 12 rebounds in a 111-99 win Tuesday.

The Rockets are now up 2-0 in the series, with Game 3 slated for Friday at 6 p.m. ET.

What’s been the key for Houston thus far in the playoffs?

“I think there’s a few things,” Houston Chronicle Rockets beat writer Jenny Dial Creech said on CBS Sports Radio’s After Hours with Amy Lawrence. “I think for one, the bench production they’re getting in the playoffs is phenomenal. The bench production was non-existent last year (against Portland), so that’s certainly a huge lift for the Rockets. I mean, Josh Smith and Dwight Howard in the fourth quarter looked like they were high school AAU teammates again. It was just lob, dunk, lob, dunk, lob, dunk – and the Mavericks had absolutely no answer to that.”

Smith had 15 points off the bench for Houston, as did Corey Brewer. In fact, the Rockets’ got 42 points from their reserves.

“The Mavericks are going to look at James Harden and try to limit him, and he’s just got far too many options at this point,” Dial said. “They’re playing really good team basketball, moving the ball and they have so many scoring options right now – and that’s really what has led them to these two wins.”

The biggest key, though, has been Howard, who missed 41 games during the regular season, mainly due to an edema in his right knee.

“I think he was smart about his injury this year,” Dial said. “It’s not something you have surgery for. There’s no quick fix for it. You get to a certain age, you have certain health problems. It takes rest, and it takes time. I know it killed him for a lot of games just to be sitting out when he felt like he probably could have played, but they pushed him to take as much time as he could off before he came back. When he came back, he had those minute restrictions and didn’t play both games in back-to-backs – and you can see it now. He’s explosive off the dribble, he’s protecting the paint, he’s finishing really well around the rim – he says he’s feeling great. If you think about not-healthy Dwight Howard right now, the Rockets don’t look the way that they do right now.”

Smith, meanwhile, has been on point for the last several weeks. He had 15 points, nine assists, eight rebounds, one block and one steal in Tuesday’s win.

“I think he really understands his role,” Dial said. “He’s coming off the bench. No one ever really has done that with him. He comes off the bench. They’ve asked him to provide a defensive spark. He’s humble. He’s happy to be here. He’s happy to be playing alongside Dwight. The two of them go all the way back to preschool. I think they always kind of dreamed of playing together, and this just kind of came to be.

“This system works well for guys like Josh Smith,” Dial continued. “A coach like Kevin McHale works well for guys like Josh Smith. He has so much freedom in the offense. All these guys do. McHale doesn’t care what shots you’re taking or how often you’re taking them. He cares if you’re playing good defense, you’re getting back, you’re moving in transition – and Josh Smith does all those things really well. So this is a system where he can be himself and he’s making smarter plays because of it.”


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