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Mavericks struggle to 10th straight victory

CHICAGO (AP) -- Despite winning again without Michael Finley, the Dallas Mavericks weren't happy with their play,

Steve Nash had 24 points and 11 assists and Dirk Nowitzki scored all 18 of his points in the second half Wednesday night to lead the
Mavericks to their 10th straight win, 107-97 over the Chicago
Bulls.

"It was like pulling teeth in the first half. I thought we were never going to score," Mavericks coach Don Nelson said. "It was a game that didn't rank with our better performances."

Finley missed his second straight game because of a strained
left hamstring, but the Mavs extended their streak, which is one
short of the club record.

"Obviously, Michael is our most experienced go-to-guy, and we miss him," said Nash, who had 11 fourth-quarter points.

"It's unfortunate for the Bulls, because they played well," Nash added. "They had a chance tonight because we were so bad."

Greg Buckner shot 9-of-12 from the field for a career-high 18
points, and reserve Eduardo Najera added 15 for the Mavericks, who
also were without injured center Shawn Bradley.

Ron Artest tied his career-high with 29 points before fouling out for the Bulls, who had won two straight under new coach Bill Cartwright.

The Bulls kept it close, but gave up 36 fourth-quarter points and allowed Dallas to get to the free throw line 36 times, making 28.

"Being smart defensively and keeping them out of the lane is something we need to learn," Cartwright said. "And giving up 19 turnovers is unacceptable."

Dallas ran out to a 9-0 lead about three minutes in and led
17-15 after one quarter.

Charles Oakley made a layup to tie it 30-all with five minutes left in the half, and the Bulls had their first lead, 42-41, when Artest hit a long jumper with 23 seconds left.

The Mavs' missed what should have been their last shot of the
half, but after Bulls center Brad Miller came down with the
rebound, he inexplicably tried to throw a baseball pass from a
sitting position. Najera picked off the pass and put up a quick
jumper, which bounced in as time expired, giving the Mavs a 43-42
lead.

"Najera brings that energy for us every night," Nelson said.

Nowitzki finally got on the board with a 3-pointer at the 7:24
mark of the third quarter, but the Mavs had trouble shaking the
Bulls. Artest had 15 points in the period to keep Chicago close as
Dallas led 71-68 after three.

Tim Hardaway made a pair of 3s, and Nowitzki converted a
three-point play as the Mavericks opened up an 82-73 lead with 7:30
to go.

Ron Mercer hit a pair of jumpers to get the Bulls within 84-81,
but Nash made a 3 with 4:07 left to make it 87-81. Chicago did not
get closer than four points after that.

"The Bulls are going through some changes, and we knew they would play well tonight," Najera said. "We didn't play as well as we were playing lately, but we found a way to win."

Game notes
The Mavs won 11 straight during the 1987-88 season. ...
Bradley was placed on the injured list before the game with a bone
bruise on his right knee. ... Bulls F Marcus Fizer was not with the club to be with his gravely ill grandmother. ... It was the second straight game the Bulls played a team without at least one of its
best players. On Monday, Chicago beat Milwaukee, which was without
Glenn Robinson and Ray Allen. ... Chicago's last three-game winning
streak came in January 2000.