In a back-and-forth game at American Airlines Center on Tuesday night, the Houston Rockets found themselves on the losing end, falling to the Dallas Mavericks 121-115. This loss not only eliminates the Rockets from the In-Season Tournament, but also extends their road woes.

In addition to being 8-7 on the season, Houston is now 0-6 away from home, the only NBA team without a road win up to this point in the season.

“Played well enough to win, not smart enough to win,” Rockets coach Ime Udoka said following the game. “We were extra aggressive, especially at the end of the third quarter. Had multiple players make a few dumb fouls, put Kyrie [Irving] at the line and got him going when he didn’t have a lot going.”

Rockets bright spots

Alperen Sengun smiling with camera bulps flashing behind him

If you're looking for silver linings, each of these road losses, aside from the first game of the season, were decided within two possessions or less. One more defensive stop or a call that went the Rockets way could have shifted this perspective.

Despite the loss, Houston has several positive developments moving forward. Alperen Sengun continued to cement his All-Star campaign in Dallas, scoring 31 points with nine rebounds and six assists on 10-of-19 shooting. Jabari Smith Jr., who struggled in the early going, had another productive game, with 16 points and nine rebounds while shooting 7-of-11 overall and 2-of-5 from deep.

Notably,  Smith hit a clutch three on a quick inbound pass in an attempt to close the Mavs' lead to a single possession with 10 seconds left in the fourth quarter.

Smith's heavily contested jumper from the elbow and baseline is money, a surefire secret weapon with his lanky 6'11 build. This is especially effective when a guard switches onto him near the perimeter. His shooting in the month of November has climbed to 55%. Udoka should involve Smith more on the offensive end, especially when supposed closer Jalen Green continues to search for consistency.

Houston's not so bright spots

Rockets coach Ime Udoka in flames

Coming into this game, Houston's top-ranked defense was a favorable matchup against Dallas' offense. Unfortunately, it was the Mavericks that unexpectedly showcased their defense, effectively limiting the Rockets' chances to score on the perimeter. Each possession down the stretch for Houston became a challenge to score points in the paint.

The main problem on defense consisted of excessive fouling early in each quarter, allowing Dallas to take full advantage of the bonus. Dillon Brooks, in particular, appeared trigger happy with his physicality all game long. He committed a costly shooting foul on Derrick Jones Jr. at the three-point line and later fouled out after reaching in on Irving, one of the league's most reliable free throw shooters.

Mavericks star Luka Doncic had another MVP-type performance, nearing a triple-double with 41 points on 51.7% shooting. This included a clutch sky hook shot down the stretch following a chaotic possession.

Defending Doncic is like playing NBA2k on Hall of Fame difficulty. He is completely unguardable and knocks down shot after shot.

Regardless if Dallas wins or loses, Doncic is going to have his way. Defense want to let him get overworked without allowing his teammates to get involved. Houston needs to defend Luka like they defend Nikola Jokic. This is mainly what translated to Houston's two convincing wins against the Denver Nuggets at home.

The Jalen Green problem

Jalen Green, Houston Rockets

Former second overall pick Jalen Green continues to be inconsistent in his third season. At times he looks like an avid point-getter, mixing aggressive, acrobatic moves to the basket with pull-up threes and transition buckets. His lack of production on Tuesday proved otherwise, as he scored just 12 points on 35.7% from the field and 1-of-7 from deep.

Green is one of the main reasons why the Rockets have yet to win a road game. At home he is adequately efficient, averaging 22 points on 44.8% shooting and 37.3% from three-point land with a +9.2 plus-minus. On the road, it's a different story. These numbers drop to 14.8 points, 36.5% shooting over and a forgettable 27.3% from deep, with a -5.0 plus-minus. The Rockets have a 4-6 record when Green shoots 40% or lower this season.

One particularly damning play on offense for Green came after Doncic switched onto him. Not known for his defense, Luka's hefty build completely bodied Green's athletic talent, nearly forcing him into a turnover.

Green's lackluster performance illustrates the Rockets lack of a true closer. Dallas has two. Even when things are going wrong, the Mavs can always rely on the duo of Irving and Doncic. Throughout each of their careers, they've been known to successfully close out games.

Green definitely has those closing traits, and it's come through various times throughout his young career. But it's too inconsistent to even consider relying on it at this stage of his development. Sengun shouldn't be Houston's only reliable scoring option in the starting lineup.

Green needs to find that consistency, or the Rockets' might look for another key piece to help elevate them from likely play-in participant to surefire playoff contender.

Rockets' unfortunate injury news

Houston Rockets, Rockets 2023-24 season, Rockets predictions, Jabari Smith, Amen Thompson

Hours before the Rockets face the Nuggets on Wednesday for the third time in November, news broke out that both starting point guard Fred VanVleet and stalwart reserve forward Jae'Sean Tate will be out with injuries. This is a huge blow to the Rockets guard and bench depth, as rookie Amen Thompson has been out with an ankle sprain dating back to November 1st.

To add insult to injury, Nuggets guard Jamal Murray could be returning Wednesday from his hamstring strain. Jokic will receive the long awaited offensive firepower they'll surely need, given that the Rockets are 2-0 in their matchups this season.

For Houston, Green must break free from his struggles and regain his scoring touch on the road. Sengun will likely have to shoulder playmaking responsibilities with VanVleet sidelined, and Udoka should consider recalling rookie Cam Whitmore from the G-League to provide more offensive options. Whitmore has been on fire with the Rio Grande Vipers, averaging an impressive 24.3 points and 6.3 rebounds on 48.6% shooting, including an outstanding 43.1% from beyond the three-point line.

The Rockets and Nuggets tipoff at 6:00 p.m. (PT) from Ball Arena.