Houston suffers largest loss of season

HOUSTON (AP) -- This time, the Houston Rockets couldn't handle
Michael Finley.

Finley scored a season-high 26 points and led a huge
third-quarter charge as the Dallas Mavericks beat Houston 102-78,
handing the Rockets their biggest loss of the season Saturday

Dallas' Dirk Nowitzki scored 53 points in the last meeting
between the two teams in a 113-106 overtime victory on Dec. 2.
Finley took over Saturday, hitting four straight 3-pointers in a
23-8 run in the third quarter against the Rockets.

"We shot the ball well and Mike Finley came back and
established our outside game," Mavericks coach Don Nelson said.
"He stayed right in there and he might have gotten tired but I
don't take a hot man out. It's great to have him back. He
establishes the outside game and opened up the drives. He opened
everything up."

Houston's biggest previous loss was 21 points against Detroit on
Nov. 30.

Finley, recovering from a sprained right ankle, made five of his
eight 3-point attempts. The Mavericks hit 11 of 25 3-pointers while
the Rockets went 6-for-18.

"I was trying to concentrate on defense," Finley said. "Tracy
was my first priority. I didn't want him to have another
`SportsCenter' highlight game. I tried to limit his touches."

The Rockets tried to recover from a slow first half and win
their fourth straight game but the Mavericks wouldn't let them.

"Our transition defense obviously was deplorable," Rockets
coach Jeff Van Gundy said. "Whatever the opponent is, there's no
excuse to get beat in transition. That's not to take anything away
from Dallas. They were phenomenal. They were great and we were

Dallas led by as many as 17 points late in the second quarter
but the Rockets cut it to seven, 54-47, early in the third period.
That's when Finley started his 3-point spree that gave the
Mavericks 77-55 lead with 1:24 left in the third quarter.

Nowitzki carried the scoring brunt for Dallas in the first half
and finished with 22 points and 14 rebounds. Tracy McGrady led
Houston with 15 points, and Yao Ming had 13.

"He's (Finley) playing unbelievable, particularly since he's
been off a month and a half," Nowitzki said. "He was demanding
the ball. He was very aggressive. He's a great shooter. He showed
it tonight. They have to respect his outside shot. He showed what
kind of shooter he was when he got hot in the second half."

Nowitzki took advantage of a slow start by the Rockets and put
the Mavericks in charge early. He had 17 points and 11 rebounds in
the first half and the Mavericks led 50-41. The Rockets trailed by
17 points with 1:46 left in the second quarter, but used a 10-2 run
to cut into the deficit.

"One thing about this league, there are some nights it's just
not there no matter what you do or how hard you try," McGrady
said. "But you still should give your best effort. Our fans
deserve that. However, tonight we didn't do that."

The Rockets weren't prepared for both Nowitzki and Finley.

"It's tough enough to guard Nowitzki," Yao said. "To add
another player is even tougher. Our biggest problem was not running
back. We have to get back on transition. Dallas is an offensive
team. They like to run. Today, we let them play the way they like
to play."

Game notes
The combined 101 points by Nowitzki (53) and McGrady (48)
on Dec. 2 was the most ever scored by two players a Rockets game.
... Yao is the only Houston player who has started all 21 games
this season. ... Dallas has won 13 of the last 16 games against the
Rockets and nine of the last 10.