DALLAS (AP) -- Their bid to win the division title is going down
to the last day of the season, but the Dallas Mavericks might not
have their leading scorer and rebounder for the finale.
Michael Finley, left, tests Jazz guard John Stockton.
Although Dirk Nowitzki returned from a four-game injury absence
to score 24 points in a 96-87 victory over the Utah Jazz on Tuesday
night, the All-Star forward said that he'll probably sit out
Wednesday night's game in Phoenix to rest up for the playoffs.
"I wanted to make one of the last two games," said Nowitzki,
who'd been out since rolling his left ankle April 8. "I decided to
play today and get an extra day of rest to see how the ankle
Dallas, which went 3-1 without Nowitzki, has the same 57-24
record as San Antonio and the Los Angeles Lakers but loses
tiebreakers to both. So while the Mavericks haven't given up on
either winning the division or finishing third in the Western
Conference, they realize it's a long shot.
The Mavs also know that the fourth seed has some benefits,
including avoiding a series against the Lakers or Spurs until the
"We just have to continue to win to go into the playoffs on a
positive note," said Dallas' Michael Finley, who celebrated being
named the West's player of the week on Monday by scoring 35 points.
The Jazz already know they'll be starting the playoffs on the
road for the first time since 1994. This loss prevented them from
locking up the seventh seed, but with the second through fourth
seeds up in the air it wouldn't matter much anyway.
Utah was in the game early, then trailed by 10 before halftime.
The Jazz was up 62-61 late in the third quarter after a flip shot
by Karl Malone but never led again.
Nick Van Exel led a 9-2 run the rest of the period and lobbed an
alley-oop pass to Finley early in the fourth. The Jazz got within
three on a jumper by John Stockton, but Finley cut between three
defenders for a powerful dunk that put Dallas up five and wiping
out Utah's comeback hopes.
"We had turnovers, opportunities and didn't capitalize on it,"
said Malone, who had 24 points, seven rebounds and seven turnovers.
He sat after the game with ice packs on his knees and spoke low,
without his usual vigor.
"Now we've got our work cut out for us. We'll just play and see
what happens. The whole thing has been frustrating. It's been an
interesting year. Now we've got one left and it's big. We've just
got to go out and play."
Said Dallas reserve and Utah native Shawn Bradley: "I grew up a
Jazz fan and it took me a long time to get that out of my head. Now
I'm a Jazz fan again."
Nowitzki said he was nervous before the game about whether the
ankle would hold up.
He got into the flow of the game early, getting an assist on the
game's first basket, then making a steal on the other end of the
court. He swished his first shot, a 20-footer, hit another jumper,
then threw down a dunk on a fast break.
While he felt pain throughout his 37 minutes, it didn't hamper
his touch. He hit eight of 17 shots and made all seven free throws. He
scored 11 points in the final period.
"It wasn't great," he said. "I've just got to play through
the pain. I don't want to lose my rhythm before the playoffs."
Finley scored 15 points in the first quarter and Dallas' first
11 of the third quarter. He also had six steals and two blocks.
Van Exel had 11 points and five assists and Raef LaFrentz, who
got four stitches above his right eye during the third quarter, had
eight points and 10 rebounds. Bradley, bidding for playoff minutes,
had six points, three blocks and three rebounds in 20 minutes.
Dallas has won three straight and five of six, extending its
franchise record for wins in a season. The Mavs finished with 30
home wins, tying the 1989-90 team for fourth-best in team history.
Utah is 3-13 against the top five teams in the Western
Conference. The Jazz are 0-3 against San Antonio, which they play
Thursday in the finale at home. ... Maybe the Mavericks are looking
for some friendly whistle-blowers: The Dallas and Fort Worth
chapters of the state officiating association for high school
sporting events was recruiting in the concourse before the game.
... Indiana Hoosiers coach Mike Davis sat at midcourt and was
bumped into by Wang Zhizhi, who was chasing a loose ball during the