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Mavs win sixth straight, reach No. 50

4/9/2004

DALLAS (AP) -- By returning to their fast-paced, fill-it-up
lineup, the Dallas Mavericks are rolling toward the playoffs.

Dirk Nowitzki scored 27 points and Antawn Jamison added 25,
sending the Mavericks to their sixth straight victory and 50th of
the season -- 117-94 over the Utah Jazz on Thursday night.

Dallas (50-28) moved into a tie with Memphis for the fifth seed
in the Western Conference with four games left. The Mavs, now 35-5
at home, play three of their remaining games on the road.

Dallas' new look has produced at least 117 points in all six
wins and an average of 121.7 over that span. The Mavericks have won
them all by at least 10 points, although Sacramento is the only
guaranteed playoff team they've faced along the way.

"It's crazy," Jamison said. "It's tough for teams to pinpoint
who they want to stop. We've got three or four guys who score six,
eight points very quickly."

Utah can vouch for that after allowing its most points since the
Mavs rang up 127 in the second game of the season.

The Jazz saw Michael Finley sandwich a bank shot around two
3-pointers in the first quarter, then rookie Josh Howard hit two 3s
and a long jumper on consecutive possessions in the second quarter.
Jamison entered during the final minute of the first quarter and
had 16 points by halftime. Even Shawn Bradley hit his first shot
when he entered in the third quarter.

"Everyone they put out there played well," Utah coach Jerry
Sloan said. "Every combination was effective. They were alive out
there."

This loss dropped the Jazz a half-game behind Denver and
Portland for the West's eighth and final playoff spot. Utah (41-38)
has three games left to try qualifying for the postseason for a
21st straight season.

Before tip-off, Nelson equated this to a playoff game because of
its importance to the Jazz. His players responded by making 17 of
their first 24 shots and leading by 24 points four minutes into the
second quarter.

"I thought our energy was really good at the beginning,"
Nowitzki said. "We took it to them, took it to the basket and
looked for the open guy. And our defense was very active. We never
really let them get in the game."

The Mavs scored 92 points through three quarters and had 110
with more than five minutes left, then emptied the bench. The
totals were significant because Utah is among the league's
stingiest defenses, allowing just 88.7 points per game. The Jazz
held Dallas to 94 and 88 points the last two meetings, both in
January.

"We were never able to get our tempo in those games," said
Antoine Walker, who at 6-foot-9 is the center of the Mavs'
small-ball lineup. "Tonight, every time they missed, we pushed it
and forced the tempo."

Finley finished with only 14 points because he was sidelined by
bruised ribs early and later by back spasms. Walker scored 15 and
Steve Nash had eight assists and six points.

Marquis Daniels and Howard continued to be the sparkplugs of
this new lineup. Both scored 12 points, with Daniels adding five
rebounds and five assists and Howard contributing nine rebounds.

Raja Bell, who came in averaging 20 points in three games
against the team he played for last season, scored 18.

Maurice Williams added 17 in 19 minutes. Andrei Kirilenko was
the leader among starters with just 13 points; Tom Gugliotta went
scoreless in 14 minutes, missing his only attempt.

After winning 60 games and reaching the conference finals last
season, the Mavericks expected to make the playoffs. Their only
questions were where they'd be seeded and how long they'd last.

A 2-3 road trip in late March dropped them into the bottom half
of the seeds and left them looking ripe for an early knockout,
especially with Nowitzki talking about locker-room problems. So
coach Don Nelson, who loves tinkering with lineups, responded by
asking the league's highest-scoring team to do more of what it does
best.

They started by winning in Orlando by 30 points, then returned
home for a five-game homestand that wrapped up with this runaway
win. Dallas next goes to Seattle and Golden State -- two teams long
since eliminated from the playoffs -- then closes at home with
Memphis and at Houston.

Game notes
This is the fourth straight year Dallas has won 50 games.
It's the 13th time for Nelson, tying Phil Jackson for second. Pat
Riley has the most with 17. ... Nelson leads Sloan 36-33 in
all-time meetings. ... Utah's Mikki Moore scored most of his 12
points on dunks, then got a shove from Bradley. It drew a technical
-- but Moore didn't make any more.