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Clips throw scare into Mavs before falling

LOS ANGELES (AP) -- Dallas blew all of its 13-point lead by the
fourth quarter, and that's when Steve Nash and Dirk Nowitzki took
over.
They combined to score 16 of the Mavs' 22 points in the final 12
minutes as Dallas held off the Los Angeles Clippers 96-90 Sunday to
win their sixth straight and improve on the NBA's best road record.

"We love close games. We can battle in there, make shots, and
at the end we believed in ourselves and won the game,'' said
Nowitzki, who had 23 points, including 10 in the fourth.

Nash finished with 24 points and Michael Finley added 21 as
Dallas opened a four-game road trip with its ninth win in 10 games.
The Mavs have the league's best record at 31-5.

After two earlier blowout losses at Dallas this season, the
Clippers put a scare into the Mavs in the fourth quarter. Neither
team led by more than three points for much of the period until the
Mavs, 13-3 on the road, gained some breathing room with seven
unanswered points to take the lead for good.

Tied at 84, Nowitzki hit a 3-pointer, Raef LaFrentz scored on a
follow dunk off Finley's miss and Nash scored on a driving layup
for a 91-84 lead with 2:28 left.

"They responded well to us,'' Nash said. "We made a run in the
third quarter and got ourselves a big lead and they came right back
at us. We were pretty sloppy, but you have to give them a lot of
credit because they definitely stood their ground.''

Elton Brand missed two key free throws for the Clippers and
Keyon Dooling missed two consecutive 3-pointers in the final 1:39.

"They made plays when it was time to and we didn't,'' Dooling
said. "We put ourselves in a position to win the game, but we came
up short.''

Brand had 19 points and 12 rebounds, Corey Maggette added 18
points, and Lamar Odom had 17 points for the Clippers, who missed a
chance to win their third straight for only the second time this
season.
"We were right there until the end,'' Clippers coach Alvin
Gentry said. "It's important for our guys to understand that if we
can play with that team and we can continue to play with the same
kind of intensity and effort, we should be able to play with any
team in this league.''

The Clippers lost Maggette and Michael Olowokandi, who had nine
points and 10 rebounds, when each fouled out within a minute of
each other late in the fourth. Sean Rooks came in for Olowokandi,
but he wasn't a dominant force inside, where the Clippers outscored
the Mavs 50-38.

"We searched and scratched and couldn't get anything going
offensively during the second half,'' Mavs coach Don Nelson said.
"Then we found a few wrinkles that got us to the basket, but they
guarded us pretty well.''

Dallas led 49-44 at the break only to see the Clippers close
within two points on a basket by Odom early in the third. The Mavs
built their largest lead, 71-58, on a 17-6 run in which Nash hit
three 3-pointers and Nowitzki scored four points.

"We get a little sloppy, we don't really execute as well
anymore offensively and defensively,'' Nowitzki said of the Mavs'
habit of losing double-digit leads. "We knew they were a dangerous
team. We've got to do a better job protecting leads.''

The final four minutes of the third belonged to the Clippers.
They outscored the Mavs 14-3, with Maggette, Brand and Andre Miller
doing all the scoring, to trail 74-72 going into the fourth. Nash
cooled off, Finley started missing and only LaFrentz's 3-pointer
kept Dallas from going scoreless in the stretch.

The Clippers played a competitive first half instead of falling
behind as has been their habit recently. They shot 39 percent,
controlled the boards 22-18 and outscored the Mavs 10-5 in
second-chance points.

Dooling's 3-pointer gave the Clippers their only lead of the
second quarter, 43-41, before the Mavs used an 8-1 run to lead
49-44 at halftime. Maggette's 3-point attempt to tie bounced off
the rim, and Nash raced downcourt for a fastbreak layup that beat
the halftime buzzer.

Game notes
Clippers G Quentin Richardson missed his fourth consecutive
game because of a left ankle sprain sustained Jan. 8 against
Memphis. ... The Mavs have won 17 of their last 19 against the
Clippers and lead the season series 3-0. ... Los Angeles controlled
the boards, 46-38.

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