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Dallas wins its 26th home game

DALLAS (AP) -- To Dallas Mavericks coach Don Nelson, the slow
pace and low score of his team's 88-79 victory over the New Jersey
Nets on Tuesday night gave it the look and feel of a playoff game.

Dirk Nowitzki saw it another way.

"It was one of the ugliest games we've played all year," said
Nowitzki, who had 24 points and 13 rebounds.

The Nets couldn't win on the scoreboard, but they triumphed in
another way by forcing the Mavericks to play the Eastern Conference
style. The highest-scoring team in the NBA had only 15 points in
the first quarter and just 60 after three periods.

Steve Nash finally got Dallas rolling in the fourth quarter by
scoring or assisting on 16 straight points. Nowitzki capped that
run with a layup and a 3-pointer that put the Mavericks ahead 80-75
with 4:11 left, sending the Nets to their fifth straight road loss.

"We couldn't separate ourselves from them. It was
frustrating," said Nash, who had 24 points and eight assists. "It
was kind of a sluggish game, but fortunately we were able to pull
away at the end."

Nelson knows that when the playoffs come, Dallas won't be able
to score 100 on a regular basis. There probably will be more games
like this.

"We had to toughen up and play playoff basketball, which was
good," Nelson said. "It was a great game to pull out."

The Nets were practically giddy in accepting the defeat. It was
New Jersey's sixth straight loss to Dallas, its worst current
streak against any team.

"We played the best team in the league down to the wire," said
point guard Jason Kidd, who had 13 points and seven rebounds while
shooting 5-for-15. "Nobody gave up."

The Nets made only three field goals in the first quarter, yet
only trailed by nine. They got down by nine again late in the third
and bounced back to lead by two. A 53-36 rebounding edge helped,
but 22 turnovers caught up to them.

"For 48 minutes, we were very competitive," coach Byron Scott
said. "We did everything but get the win. If we play like this,
we'll be in good shape."

Kenyon Martin, playing in his hometown, had 18 points and nine
rebounds. He also helped set the defensive tone.

"We tried to make it tough on them and stop them from
running," he said. "For the most part, we did that."

The league-leading Mavericks (46-14) won their 26th at home,
tying the Nets for the most in the NBA.

While Dallas has struggled against the elite teams in the West,
it's had no problem with the East's best. The Mavs are 7-1 against
the top four of Indiana, New Jersey, Detroit and Philadelphia, and
22-4 against the entire conference.

"We should think that every game is a tuneup for the playoffs,
not games just against top teams," Nash said.

Dallas' Michael Finley scored 15 points, making only four of 17
shots. Nick Van Exel failed to score in 22 minutes, missing five
shots. Shawn Bradley missed the fourth quarter after needing seven
stitches to close a cut under his right eye.

Bradley was hit by Martin's elbow during a rebound at the end of
the third quarter.

"We're going to look at the play to see if it was intentional
or not," Nelson said.

New Jersey's Aaron Williams had 13 points and eight rebounds.
Jason Collins had 10 rebounds in just 18 minutes, but only two
points.

Both teams were awful in the first quarter. The Mavericks shot
just 27 percent and had four turnovers -- yet they were the better
team. The Nets missed their first seven shots, not hitting a field
goal until 5:35. They made only three baskets all quarter.

New Jersey never led by more than two.

Game notes
New Jersey guard Chris Childs did not travel with the team.
... Dallas' only loss to the top four East teams was to Indiana,
ending a 14-0 start to the season one game shy of tying the NBA
record. ... The Nets are 12-11 against the West. ... The Mavs have
swept the season series with the Nets the last three years. That's
a first, as is their six-game win streak against New Jersey.

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