The Rockets knew it was coming, having seen the ploy for years and used it themselves, but the first hack-a-Dwight arrived ahead of schedule.

The Dallas Mavericks had slowed the Rockets after the initial burst Friday night. But midway through the third quarter, Mavs coach Rick Carlisle did not want to just tap the brakes, he wanted to slam them through the floor boards. He called for the Mavericks to intentionally foul Howard, and for a few minutes and a few clanked free throws, it worked.

In the end, however, it turned out to be a mistake in judgment.

Howard missed his first four attempts after the Mavericks began sending him to the line and the game slowed to an agonizing crawl. But Howard knocked down just enough – four of his next five – to end the strategy long enough for James Harden to take over and allow the Rockets to take out Dallas 113-105 at Toyota Center.

The Rockets knew they had not seen the last of teams replacing their fast offense with slow walks to the free-throw line.

“I just have to make them,” Howard said. “I got to sing a new song. Tonight, my song was too fast in my head. I got to sing a slower song.”

Howard, who would not share his musical choice, could have hummed retorts to Mavericks owner Mark Cuban’s claim Thursday that Howard made “a mistake in judgment” in choosing the Rockets over Dallas. But Howard insisted he was not bothered by that. Howard said he and Cuban, who was in his customary seat behind the Dallas bench, had spoken before the game.

“He just said, ‘Dwight, it’s biz,’ ” said Howard, who had 16 rebounds to give him 42 in two games, the most in the first two games to start a season since at least 1985 in the NBA. “We laughed and talked about other things.

“What would you want him to say? He’s taking it for his team. I would do the same thing if somebody didn’t want to come with me. I would think they had made a bad decision. There’s no reason to be mad. We talked about it already. I totally understand. It’s business.”

In some respects, the Mavericks had said more about the team Howard had chosen than Howard could have. The Rockets had rushed to a 22-point first-half lead, pushing the tempo unlike in Wednesday’s 96-83 win over Charlotte. The Dallas zone and missed 3-pointers around it slowed the Rockets, but when the Rockets knocked down a few 3s, Carlisle pulled the plug.

“It slowed the whole thing, and there was no rhythm in the game,” Rockets coach McHale said. “We play better when we have rhythm and get going.”

They did briefly run during the hack-a-Dwight period, with Howard beating the Mavericks down the floor to where only Dirk Nowitzki, already in foul trouble, was in position to foul him.

Harden, who had a 34-point performance, immediately knocked down a 3-pointer, beginning a stretch in which he scored 10 points in five minutes.