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Blazers jump ahead, but Nowitzki and Co. bounce back

DALLAS (AP) -- Trailing at halftime for the first time this
season, the Dallas Mavericks regrouped quickly.

Fired up by pep talks from Avery Johnson and Michael Finley,
plus a phone call from an ailing Nick Van Exel, the Mavericks
rallied to beat the Portland Trail Blazers 82-73 Monday night to
remain the NBA's lone unbeaten team.

Dirk Nowitzki had 26 points, a season-high 17 rebounds and six
steals as Dallas improved to 7-0, extending the best start in
franchise history. The Mavericks turned a 13-point second-quarter
deficit into a 12-point lead by the end of the third.

''We showed a lot,'' said Finley, who had 21 points and eight
rebounds. ''We don't have to score in the 100s to win. We can play
this style and win. We definitely took a huge step forward.''

Despite the big comeback and several nice individual
performances, the Mavericks were most proud of the way they handled
Portland's physical style and the way their defense shut down the
Trail Blazers.

The most impressive part was a 10:21 span over the middle two
quarters in which Portland missed 13 straight shots. The Blazers,
playing their third road game in four nights, hit just four free
throws in that stretch and never recovered.

The Mavericks will try to keep their streak going on the road.
The NBA's best road team last season plays next Wednesday at
Cleveland. They then go to Boston and New Jersey before returning
home to play the Lakers next Tuesday.

''We're confident we can win a ballgame when we're not hitting
our shots,'' said Steve Nash, who had 12 points and seven assists.
''None of us are going home and saying, 'Yes! We're 7-0! Everyone
is saying, 'OK, let's go.'''

The comeback was the first Dallas has needed all season. The
Mavs hadn't even trailed by more than three points at any time all
season.

By the end, though, the only disappointment was that their
biggest lead was only 15 -- it had been at least 19 every game -- and
they had their lowest point total. Yet winning with 82 points was a
point of pride.

''It's not going to be a blowout every night,'' Nowitzki said.
''These are the types of games when we have to stick together as a
team.''

Portland led 35-22 with 5:49 left in the first half. The Blazers
held Dallas to its lowest-scoring quarter of the season in the
first period and the Mavs were on their way to their worst half.
Part of the problem was turnovers: 11 in two quarters after just
four the previous game.

Nowitzki, who before the game was named the Western Conference's
top player for last week, started the rally with consecutive
3-pointers as the Mavericks closed to 38-34 at the break.

Finley told teammates in the locker room, ''As terrible as we
played, we're only down by four points.''

Van Exel, who had knee surgery earlier Monday, called Nash and
told him to ''slow down, be confident and take my shots.''

Dallas came out so aggressive that Portland coach Maurice Cheeks
called a timeout after just 1 minute, 1 second. He called another 2
minutes later.

It hardly worked. The Blazers, frustrated by Dallas' zone
defense, scored just 12 points in the third quarter and could only
get within eight after that.

''That's a team on a roll,'' Cheeks said. ''They were down
early, but you knew they were going to come back.''

Rasheed Wallace led Portland with 14 points, but was just
5-of-21 shooting. Arvydas Sabonis had 10 points and 10 rebounds,
and Damon Stoudamire added 13 points.

''We need to prepare more against the zone,'' Sabonis said.
''Other teams will study this game and we'll see a lot more zones
until we show we can beat it.''

The Blazers were without Bonzi Wells, who was suspended without
pay for one game for spitting on San Antonio forward Danny Ferry on
Saturday.

''We could have used Bonzi because he's one of our best
offensive players,'' Cheeks said. ''It's an unfortunate situation.
It set us back.''

Shawn Bradley continued his strong play, hitting all four of his
field-goal attempts and scoring 10 points plus grabbing a
season-high 18 rebounds. He also kept his cool in several tense
situations.

''I'm contributing in a positive way,'' he said. ''That's my
goal.''

Game notes
Both teams had only 10 healthy players, and used nine in
the first quarter. Portland was without Wells and Derek Anderson
(concussion), while Dallas was missing Evan Eschmeyer (strained
knee) and Popeye Jones (back spasms). ... Van Exel had surgery on
his right knee and will be out three-to-six weeks. He went on
injured reserve, and undrafted free agent Adam Harrington of Auburn
was activated. He played the final minute.