Mavericks snap three-game losing slide

DALLAS (AP) -- For one quarter, the Dallas Mavericks once again
looked like the team with the best record in the NBA.

For four quarters, the Houston Rockets didn't look anything like
the team they've been this season.

Dirk Nowitzki scored 12 of his 26 points during a gamebreaking
second quarter and Raef LaFrentz contained Yao Ming, helping the
Mavericks end a three-game losing streak with a 107-86 victory over
the listless Rockets on Tuesday night.

"It was good to see us win again. It seems like a month, not a
week, since we won,'' Dallas coach Don Nelson said.

Returning home from a dismal West Coast trip, the Mavericks
drilled their first four shots -- all long jumpers -- and led by 12
points early. Although Houston briefly went ahead, Dallas regained
control by outscoring the Rockets 29-13 in the second quarter. The
game was never close again.

"The problem on the road trip was that we were lacking energy,
so tonight we needed to get back to running and being aggressive,''
Nowitzki said. "It was a good team effort.''

Nowitzki rebounded from a scoreless first quarter to score eight
of Dallas' first nine points in the second, starting with a layup
off a great spin move. Instead of relying on jumpers, the Mavs
began driving, which opened up their entire offense.

Their defense was solid, too, primarily with the way LaFrentz
slowed Yao.

Yao had 30 points and 16 rebounds against Shawn Bradley and the
Dallas zone when the teams met in November. This time, LaFrentz
took him on man-to-man and held him to six points and five rebounds
in 22 minutes.

LaFrentz, 7 inches shorter than Yao, blocked three of his shots
and once tied him up to force a jump ball, which LaFrentz won.

"The way Yao played last time, he had easy looks, so we just
tried to keep a body on him,'' LaFrentz said.

Rockets coach Rudy Tomjanovich had another explanation.

"I think he's tired,'' Tomjanovich said. "I think he needs to
take two days off and rest. He needs to get his batteries

Yao insisted he wasn't worn out.

"I felt I had good opportunities, I just didn't put the ball in
the basket,'' he said.

Asked about LaFrentz's defense, Yao smiled and said, "We'll see
what happens next time.'' The teams meet again next Wednesday in

In losing their second straight since an exciting overtime
victory over the Los Angeles Lakers, the Rockets committed a
season-high 26 turnovers and had a season-low eight assists. That
horrible combination not surprisingly produced their most lopsided
loss of an otherwise strong season. At 23-17, Houston is 10 games
better than their 13-27 record at the same point last season.

"When you shoot 43 free throws and outrebound a team, you
figure the game is going to be close, but 30 points off turnovers
... holy Moses!'' Tomjanovich said. "We had horrible

Dallas hadn't lost consecutive games all season until falling to
Sacramento, Phoenix and Seattle over the last five days. In
avoiding their first four-game losing streak since March 2000, the
Mavericks improved their league-leading record to 32-8. All other
teams have at least 11 losses.

Steve Nash had 20 points and eight assists and Michael Finley
scored 19 points, including the 5,000th of his career on a
hard-fought tip-in just before the buzzer at the end of the third

LaFrentz had eight points. In addition to his stuffs on Yao, he
also rejected a dunk attempt by James Posey.

Posey typified Houston's offensive woes by following that
embarrassment with an airball on a 3-pointer on the next

Houston's Steve Francis, coming off a four-point game that was
his worst since going scoreless as a rookie, had 26 points, eight
rebounds and four assists. He was 8-for-17.

Cuttino Mobley scored 16.

Eddie Griffin didn't play because of a tight back. He's listed
as day-to-day and could be ready Friday against Detroit.

Game notes
Dallas won its fifth straight at home and beat Houston for
the sixth time in eight meetings. ... Francis wowed the crowd with
two fake passes on one layup in the first quarter. ... Former
European star Antoine Rigaudeau got a big ovation when he made his
first home-court appearance. Rigaudeau, who signed Friday and made
his debut Sunday, made a layup in the final minute for his first
career points. He'd missed his first seven NBA shots. ... Nash is
challenging the team record for consecutive free throws (49), which
he set last month. He hit four, giving him 44 straight. Rolando
Blackman's mark of 45 had stood since 1991.

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