DALLAS (AP) -- The Dallas Mavericks have gotten so accustomed to playing without Michael Finley that they were almost able to blow out the Utah Jazz with their injured team leader watching in street clothes.
The Mavs' 17-point lead with 5:35 left dwindled to one in the last minute before Dirk Nowitzki preserved a 106-103 victory by making four free throws over the final 6.9 seconds Saturday night.
Dallas has won six of the last seven and 16 of 19 since losing in Utah on Dec. 10. The Mavs are 8-1 without Finley, a two-time All-Star, but the Jazz were the best team they've faced without him. His injured hamstring is likely to keep him out another week.
"Even without Fin, we're doing the things we need to do to win games," Nowitzki said. "When we start playing the high Western Conference teams we'll need our No. 1 scorer back."
Nowitzki, who has become the unquestioned go-to guy, scored 34
points after having 40 and 32 in his previous two games.
The Mavericks were in the midst of a 17-1 run early in the first
quarter before Finley even made it to his courtside seat. Dallas
led by at least 11 until the start of the fourth quarter, then built its lead to 95-80.
Then Karl Malone and John Stockton took over, scoring 21 of
Utah's final 25 points to force the tight ending. Malone had 22 of
his 28 points in the second half and Stockton finished with a
season-high 24 points.
But Stockton threw up an air ball on a 3-pointer at the buzzer
that would've forced overtime.
"We're something like 0-for-7 on dramatic finishes this season,
so that is not real rewarding," Jazz coach Jerry Sloan said.
Utah missed its first 10 shots and was only 5-of-20 in the first quarter. Stockton and Malone were hardly factors at all, with Steve Nash and Nowitzki showing why they're the new tandem to be reckoned with.
Nash had 23 points, nine assists and six rebounds. Nowitzki was
9-for-14, hitting four of five 3-pointers and making all 12 of his
"We looked like we were bored with being here," said Sloan, whose team lost a tight game in San Antonio two nights before. "We couldn't move our bodies. Even our young players looked like they had a difficult time moving their bodies."
Utah got within one twice in the final 18.7 seconds, but each time Nowitzki was fouled after taking the inbounds pass and hit both foul shots.
The Jazz got a career-high 17 points from Scott Padgett, who
also had nine rebounds and five assists. But Bryon Russell was
1-of-8, missing a 3-pointer that would've tied the game in the closing seconds.
The intensity and arguments over foul calls that marked the
final quarter were reminiscent of the last year's first-round
playoff series between the teams. Dallas won the series at the
buzzer in the fifth game after being down 0-2.
"It feels like a loss," Nash said. "Our expectations are rising, that's why it's disappointing."
The Mavericks will play their next two games without coach Don
Nelson, who will be with his wife, Joy, when she undergoes surgery
for breast cancer. His son, assistant coach Donnie Nelson, will be
in charge. Donnie went 13-8 while filling in last season when his
dad was battling prostate cancer.
Call them the Grumpy Old Point Guards: Stockton got a
technical foul for arguing his second foul midway through the first
quarter, then Dallas' Tim Hardaway got a technical for arguing a
foul early in the second quarter. ... Fans could get locks of
Nowitzki's recently shaved hair by making a donation to breast
cancer research. One fan, however, wore a mop on his head and held up a sign
that read "I Bought Dirk's hair On e-Bay." ... A group of fans
along the baseline near the Mavs' bench wore Dairy Queen T-shirts
in honor of Mark Cuban and rubber skull caps that made them look
bald in honor of Nowitzki. ... Jazz forward Donyell Marshall, the
team's second-leading scorer, missed his fifth straight game with a
bruised right hip. ... This was the last of seven straight Saturday
night home games for Dallas. The Mavs went 5-2 in those games.