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Nowitzki gets off canvas to deck T-Wolves

DALLAS (AP) -- Dirk Nowitzki did his part to show that the Dallas Mavericks are tougher than some people think.

Nowitzki absorbed a pounding to his neck by Kevin Garnett to lead a furious rally in the final two minutes, sending the Dallas Mavericks past the Minnesota Timberwolves 112-109 Thursday night.

Nowitzki, who had 32 points, 10 rebounds and three blocks, took
over with the Mavs down 104-99. He started with a 3-pointer, then
slammed in an alley-oop to tie the game. Next came a steal against
Garnett that led to a go-ahead jumper by Steve Nash.

After Garnett tied it, Nowitzki put Dallas ahead for good with a
15-foot turnaround jumper, ending Minnesota's six-game winning
streak.

"The only way you're going to beat us is if you play us physical,'' said Nowitzki, who took nearly an hour to arrive at his locker after the game and was carrying a bag filled with throat lozenges and cold medicine. "Tonight shows that we're a tough team.''

The hardest hit came while the Mavericks were on a 19-1 run late
in the third quarter. Nowitzki blew by Garnett and was headed to
the rim when Garnett swung his right forearm. He came nowhere near
the ball, instead pounding Nowitzki in the back of the head and neck.

"It wasn't like it looked,'' said Garnett, who had 31 points, 17 rebounds and eight assists. "Dirk likes to pump the ball behind his head. I was trying to anticipate and just trying to block the shot. It was nothing intentional.''

While Nowitzki was down, Michael Finley got in Garnett's face. Finley and Garnett each received technical fouls and Garnett was called for a flagrant foul.

"I felt the foul was a little excessive and I can't let him do that,'' Finley said. "There's no love lost between us. It was just something I felt I had to do.''

Nowitzki wore an ice pack on his neck during timeouts. While on
the court, he often tilted his head shoulder-to-shoulder to keep loose.

"He hit me pretty good,'' Nowitzki said. "It was a hard foul, but you don't want anyone to have easy layups. All I felt was a hit on the head and then my neck was sore.''

The frenetic finish was fitting for a game that picked up where their first-round playoff series from last season left off.

Minnesota, which was swept, led by 11 in the third quarter but
then went cold, failing to score a basket for 5:06. After Dallas'
big run, the Timberwolves answered with a 14-2 spurt and were later
up 99-93 with 5:05 left.

After Nowitzki made it 108-106, Minnesota's Anthony Peeler
missed consecutive shots. Raef LaFrentz hit two free throws to put
Dallas up by four, but Troy Hudson -- who had a season-high 31
points -- hit his fifth 3-pointer to make it 110-109 with 1.1
seconds left.

Then Nash, the league's second-most accurate foul shooter, made
two free throws with 0.6 to play. Nick Van Exel intercepted the
long inbounds pass to end the game.

"It was a great game for people to watch, not to coach,'' said
Timberwolves coach Flip Saunders, whose team had won eight of nine
overall and three of four on the road.

Nash had 25 points and eight assists. LaFrentz had 25 points and
a season-high 15 rebounds. Finley had 17 points.

The Mavericks, coming off a game in Houston the night before,
scored just 16 points in the second quarter with their starters
combining for two. They rebounded with 37 in the third.

"Wow, what a game,'' Mavs coach Don Nelson said. "I didn't
think we'd have enough energy to come back and sustain it. I was
really proud of my team.''

Hudson returned to the starting lineup after giving way to Rod
Strickland the last eight games, three of which he missed with an
ankle injury. Strickland is out 3-to-4 weeks with a strained left
groin.

Joe Smith had 18 points and 11 rebounds and Wally Szczerbiak had
14 points for Minnesota, which got only six points from its
reserves.

Game notes
Dallas' Raja Bell, an occasional starter, sat out with a
bruised left thigh. ... LaFrentz and Nash were so surprised by
Nowitzki faking a shot and passing to them that they missed the
ball. It happened in the first quarter -- on consecutive
possessions. ... Dallas (36-9) is guaranteed its most wins by the
All-Star break. The Mavs have three games left to try adding to it.

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