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Dirk takes shot in mouth, gives Mavs shot in the arm

DALLAS (AP) -- The Dallas Mavericks got instant results from a
two-day crash course in defense. Then again, it helped that they
were playing the Atlanta Hawks.

The Hawks matched a franchise-low by scoring just 28 points in
the first half and the Mavericks wound up tying a franchise low for
points allowed in a game in a 90-68 victory Saturday night.

"It was what I expected after a couple days of practice,"
Dallas coach Don Nelson said.

Dirk Nowitzki led Dallas with 15 points and 12 rebounds, despite
losing his front teeth. His gritty performance was fitting
considering 137 U.S. soldiers wounded in Iraq and Afghanistan sat
in front-row seats.

The soldiers from Brooke Army Medical Center near San Antonio
were flown in as part of a thank-you campaign thought up by a
season-ticket holder, with more than $150,000 in courtside seats
donated by fellow season-ticket holders. The soldiers -- all wearing
matching T-shirts and many with their injuries quite apparent --
received a standing ovation after the first quarter.

Nowitzki was hit in the mouth by teammate Jason Terry and
Atlanta's Jason Collier while going for a rebound a few minutes in.
He returned late in the first quarter without the dental bridge
that comprises most of his top teeth. He had it put back in at
halftime with a cream a team employee bought at a drug store during
the first half.

"I was lucky enough that my dentist was actually at the game,"
Nowitzki said. "He came in and fixed it real quick. I've got to go
back and see him (Sunday)."

Nowitzki played 32 minutes, making five of 12 shots and
uncharacteristically missing five of 10 foul shots. It hardly
mattered, though, because of how poorly the Hawks played.

Atlanta opened with seven straight misses and made just one of
its first 15 shots. The Hawks didn't get a basket from a starter
until there was 1:23 left in the first quarter and they finished
the period with just 12 points. They had 16 in the second quarter,
getting the last two on foul shots with 0.5 seconds left, giving
them just 28 at halftime for the fourth time in franchise history.

Their 68 points set a season low for the second time in three
games; they had 69 against Houston on Wednesday. Atlanta shot just
33 percent in losing its fifth straight, keeping the Hawks stuck at
four wins, second worst in the NBA.

"The first and second quarters were a disaster offensively,"
coach Mike Woodson said. "We just couldn't make our shots. We lost
our confidence a little bit shooting the ball."

Considering that the Hawks missed layups, dunks and 10 of their
first 14 free throws during the slow start, it's hard to credit the
Mavs' defense too much. But Dallas, which had lost its last three
at home, was coming off two long practices in which coach Don
Nelson tried regaining the defensive intensity his players showed
when they started the season 7-1.

"We had to get back to the way we were playing in early
November," said Terry, who made his first start with Dallas
against his former team. "Now the key is coming back and doing it
again."

The Mavericks actually took their time breaking the game open.
They led just 27-12 after Atlanta's first-quarter cold snap, but
stretched it to 23 by halftime and a game-high 32 at the end of the
third quarter.

The lopsided score sucked away the story line of Terry and
Atlanta's Antoine Walker facing their former teams after being
traded for each other in the offseason. Terry scored 12 points, and
Walker had 13 points and 11 rebounds.

Rookie Josh Smith provided the top highlight for the Hawks,
getting 10 blocks, most in the NBA this season. Five came within
the first eight minutes of the second quarter.

"I was just trying to contribute on the defensive end and
trying to spark some energy into my teammates so we could execute
on offense," he said.

Dallas rookie Devin Harris showed his leaping ability, too,
streaking through the defense for a dunk that drew oohs and aahs
from teammates. He hit a free throw to make it a three-point play,
too.

Game notes
Atlanta wore its alternate road jerseys, which boldly
feature a shade of yellow somewhere between lemon and mustard. ...
Dallas swingman Jerry Stackhouse sat out with a hand injury. ...
The Mavs allowed also their fewest points this season for a first
quarter (12), second quarter (16) and first half.