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The Dallas Mavericks didn’t put too much stock in their back-to-back road losses against the Utah Jazz in late January, setbacks that immediately followed COVID issues striking the team.

However, Dallas did take something from those defeats, namely the recognition that a more physical brand of defense would be required to compete against a Jazz team with the best record in the Western Conference. On Monday, the Mavericks applied those lessons learned and defeated the Jazz 111-103 in Dallas to stretch their winning streak to a season-best five games.

The Mavericks, set to visit the Houston Rockets on Wednesday, are resembling the improved team most expected entering this season. One victory doesn’t signal their arrival as a contender in the West, but it does validate what they’ve done lately.

“Every win is a confidence (builder),” said Mavericks guard Luka Doncic, who had 31 points, nine rebounds and eight assists Monday. “Any NBA team can beat you, so every win is a confidence (builder) here. They’re first in the West, so obviously it’s a big win, and we’ve just got to keep rolling like this.”

The Mavericks will be challenged to maintain their momentum. Center Kristaps Porzingis (20.2 points, 8.9 rebounds) has missed consecutive games with a wrist injury and will be sidelined for an undetermined amount of time. Dallas is accustomed to playing without Porzingis, who missed the first nine games of the season following offseason knee surgery and has been sidelined for 18 games total. Still, Porzingis has played well, and his absence will create a void.

Against Utah, forward Dorian Finney-Smith proved integral, and his versatility remains crucial to the team, particularly with Porzingis unavailable. Finney-Smith has performed especially well of late, averaging 11.2 points and 5.2 rebounds since returning from paternity leave on March 21. He scored 23 against Utah on Monday.

“He’s such an important part of our team,” Mavericks coach Rick Carlisle said. “We needed his defense, his rebounding and his scoring.

“He did everything, including drive the ball and make free throws, guard multiple positions and all that stuff. Obviously a very important guy to us.”

The Rockets, meanwhile, are trying to find positive signs amid their latest skid. Houston dropped its fifth consecutive game Monday, falling 133-130 to the visiting Phoenix Suns.

The Houston offense, one of the worst in the league by every measure, shot 54.4 percent overall and converted 17 of 33 3-point attempts against the Suns’ fifth-rated defense. The young core of Christian Wood (23 points), Kevin Porter Jr. (20 points, nine rebounds and eight assists), Jae’Sean Tate (18 points, seven rebounds, five assists) and Kenyon Martin Jr. (13 points off the bench) was particularly effective.

The losses keep piling up, but at least the Rockets believe in their potential.

“We try to take every opportunity to have a learning experience,” Rockets coach Stephen Silas said. “Previous games fourth quarter, watch the film and try to do better. (Monday night) we did better as far as our execution, as far as getting the ball where we wanted it to go.

“We had 38 points in the fourth. That’s a credit to our guys as far as listening, learning and getting better.”

–Field Level Media