Van Exel, Finley lead Mavs after Nowitzki hurt


SALT LAKE CITY (AP) -- Nick Van Exel's fourth-quarter strategy
was simple. Get the ball to Michael Finley, and shoot it if that
doesn't work out.

Van Exel and Finley each heated up in the fourth quarter and
finished with 20 points, leading the Dallas Mavericks to a 105-96
victory over the Utah Jazz on Monday night.

Van Exel had 12 points in the final period and Finley had 10 as
the Mavericks remained a half-game ahead of San Antonio for the
Midwest Division lead and the No. 2 playoff position in the Western

"When we ran the pick-and-roll, I knew Michael would be able to
get free," Van Exel said. "Michael just happened to be the last
guy on the food chain, but I feel good about him having the ball in
his hands."

The Mavericks won it without leading scorer and rebounder Dirk
Nowitzki, who had 10 points before he rolled his left ankle in the
second quarter and limped to the dressing room. He didn't return
for the second half with a strained ankle.

"Everybody had to step up," Finley said. "Nick played great.
He made some really big shots down the stretch."

Tests are planned Tuesday after the Mavericks return to Dallas,
but Nowitzki didn't think it was serious. He didn't dismiss the
possibility of playing Tuesday night against Portland.

"I can be in pain while I play as long as it makes sense,"
said Nowitzki, who averages 23.8 points and 10.2 rebounds. "We
also know the playoffs are more important than one game before
them, so we'll see how I feel."

Karl Malone scored 10 of his 22 points in the fourth quarter. He
also had eight rebounds, returning to the Utah lineup after missing
the defeat Friday against Sacramento with a swollen right knee.

"I played, suited up. I was out there," Malone said, shrugging
off questions about his knee.

Despite another tough defeat, the Jazz got good news later.
Although they still trail Seattle by a game for the No. 7 spot in
the West, the Sonics' victory over the Clippers assured Utah of a
19th consecutive postseason trip.

Steve Nash, who went scoreless against the Spurs on Sunday, had
17 this time despite battling a stomach virus that kept him out of
the second half Saturday in a setback at San Antonio.

"It wasn't a good performance, but it was a good win without
our leading scorer in the second half," Nash said. "Finley made
huge shots for us and Nick made a bunch of really big plays down
the stretch. Two huge performances."

Eduardo Najera added 10 points and nine rebounds and helped the
Mavericks with the hustle plays that don't show up in the
statistics. Four of his rebounds came on the offensive end.

"I challenged the team at halftime," coach Don Nelson said.
"We needed to step it up and we did. I like this team a lot. They
have a lot of character."

John Stockton scored 17 points and had eight assists, while
Bryon Russell and Andrei Kirilenko each had 14 for the Jazz.

Just as they did against the Kings three nights earlier, the
Jazz hung with the Mavericks deep into the fourth quarter, but came
up short down the stretch.

"Against these better teams, to play like them, we have to be
clicking on all cylinders," Stockton said. "We're not doing

After Malone's putback pulled Utah to 99-96 with 2:02 to play,
Greg Buckner got free for an easy basket and the Mavericks coasted
from there. Utah missed four shots and had a kicked ball violation
on his last four possessions.

"We haven't been able to finish," Jazz coach Jerry Sloan said.
"Our shot selection could have been a tad better."

The Jazz led 71-70 after two free throws by Russell with 2:02
remaining in the third quarter. DeShawn Stevenson's jumper with
27.5 seconds to go kept Utah at 77-75 down going into the fourth

Van Exel hit a 3-pointer and Finley made a jumper to help Dallas
gain control early in the final quarter. But the Jazz tied it at 88
with 5:54 to play on a 3-pointer by Russell and a jumper by

Game notes
The Jazz are 1-2 against Dallas and 3-14 against the top
five teams in the Western Conference. ... Van Exel and Malone were
whistled for technical fouls in the second quarter. ... Dallas is
an NBA-best 45-1 when leading after the third quarter. Over the
past two seasons, the Mavericks are 91-3 when they lead going into
the fourth. ... When referee Jim Clark started to call a
first-quarter foul on Shawn Bradley, Sloan and reserve John Starks
flew onto the court to make sure it was correctly given to
Nowitzki. ... The Mavericks had a 46-40 rebounding edge, including
16 offensive boards.