Regular Season Series (Game 3 of 4)

Series starts 11/24

Game 1: Saturday, November 24th
Game 2: Sunday, February 17th
Game 3: Tuesday, March 5th
Game 4: Wednesday, April 17th

Suns 77

(28-32, 11-18 away)

    Coverage: FSSW

    7:30 PM ET, March 5, 2002

    American Airlines Center, Dallas, TX

    1 2 3 4 T
    PHX 23 21 14 1977
    DAL 17 23 23 1881

    Top Performers

    Phoenix: S. Marion 13 Pts, 18 Reb, 1 Ast, 2 Stl, 1 Blk

    Dallas: D. Nowitzki 30 Pts, 20 Reb, 2 Ast, 3 Stl

    Nowitzki's 30 points, 20 rebounds drop Suns

    DALLAS (AP) -- The Dallas Mavericks weren't sure which was more surprising, that their offense scored only 81 points against the Phoenix Suns, or that their defense allowed only 77.

    "It was still a four-point win and that's about what we average for the year," Dallas coach Don Nelson rationalized Tuesday night. "The bottom line is that we won a game we were supposed to win and we did it the hard way."

    In a game that featured the fewest points of the season for both teams, Dirk Nowitzki led the Mavericks with 30 points and 20 rebounds. He had 19 defensive rebounds, thanks mostly to Phoenix suffering its least-accurate shooting performance of the season (35.7 percent).

    Shawn Marion had 16 of his 18 rebounds on defense for Phoenix, thanks mostly to Dallas' second-worst shooting performance of the season (37 percent).

    Both teams also either tied or set season lows in field goals and 3-pointers. And both teams blamed their problems on not enough ball movement. "Stagnant" was a term used in both locker rooms.

    "We were standing around, we weren't moving the ball," Nowitzki said. "We missed so many layups. It's a joke."

    Mavericks assistant coach Del Harris, the team's "defensive coordinator," will surely point out in future practices that they won anyway by not giving up anywhere near the league-worst 101.7 points they'd been averaging. Dallas has maintained one of the league's best records by also averaging 105 points on offense.

    Two games ago, the Mavericks saw first hand how defense can set the tone for offense as the Miami Heat took them out of their rhythm and waltzed to a victory.

    "We showed we can play defense when we put our minds to it," Dallas guard Nick Van Exel said. "We know we're going to see this kind of pace when we get to the playoffs. We also know there's going to be more physical teams than the team we played tonight."

    Jake Tsakalidis led Phoenix with 15 points. Shawn Marion had 13 points and a season-high 18 rebounds. Stephon Marbury had 13 points and eight assists and Tom Gugliotta had 10 points and seven rebounds. He also wasn't impressed with Dallas' defense.

    "They switch a lot and play a lot of junk defense," Gugliotta said. "When you fall into their trap, it looks like they are playing great defense. If you have patience and you move the ball, you can carve it up and get layups. At times we did that, but for some reason we didn't stick with it."

    The Suns led for most of the first half, even going up by nine, but lost control by scoring only 14 points in the third quarter.

    Nowitzki and Finley, who had 24 points, led a 25-8 run that put Dallas up 78-62 with 7:28 left. The Mavs thought they had the game won, but Phoenix rallied to get within 80-77 and had the ball.

    Stephon Marbury tried a long 3-pointer from the top of the key with about 9 seconds left, but it clanged short. Nowitzki got the rebound and made a free throw to seal the victory.

    "We wanted him to either drive and get a three-point play or he could take the 3-pointers," Suns coach Frank Johnson said. "He settled for a shot he thought he could make."

    The Mavericks are 4-1 since adding Van Exel and Raef LaFrentz in a seven-player trade with Denver and remain atop the Midwest Division. Dallas also is fighting Sacramento and the Los Angeles Lakers for the best record in the Western Conference.

    With such lofty accomplishments, it seems almost silly to note this victory was No. 42 for the Mavericks, clinching a winning record. It's not, because this is still a franchise that had 13 straight losing seasons before last year.

    Speaking of .500, Nelson reached the break-even point in his tenure with the Mavericks at 170-170. He hasn't been there since starting 1-1; he won his debut, then lost 15 straight and was as bad as 50-107 (.318).

    Phoenix, which is 0-3 against the Mavs this season, has been on a lose-win roller coaster the last eight games.

    Game notes

    Dallas' previous low point-total this season was 87 against Houston in November. Phoenix's previous low was 78 against Memphis last month. ... Each team got points from only three players in the third quarter: Nowitzki (12), Finley (six) and LaFrentz (five) for Dallas; Marion (six), Marbury (four) and Tsakalidis (four) for Phoenix. ... The Suns' next two games are against New Jersey and Minnesota, which along with Dallas are among the top five teams in the NBA. ... Dallas activated Shawn Bradley and Greg Buckner from the injured list and put Danny Manning and Tariq Abdul-Wahad on it.

    Copyright by STATS LLC and The Associated Press