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Mavericks demolish Rockets behind Nowitski's 29

HOUSTON (AP) -- Even when the Houston Rockets knew what was
coming, they couldn't stop the Dallas Mavericks.

Dirk Nowitzki scored 13 of his 29 points in a decisive third
quarter as the Mavericks opened a five-game road trip with a 103-76
win on Wednesday night over the undermanned Rockets.

At times in the first half, Houston coach Jeff Van Gundy yelled
to his team what Dallas player was going to shoot it, but the
Mavericks ran the play anyway and scored.

It only got worse after halftime, when Nowitzki and the
Mavericks pushed a 49-34 lead over 30.

"Our concentration was great," said Nowitzki, who hit 10 of 14
shots. "We were focused, moved the ball well on the offensive end
and got big stops defensively."

Josh Howard added 18 for the Mavericks, who handed the Rockets
their seventh straight loss both overall and at home.

The Rockets were playing for the fifth straight game without
injured stars Tracy McGrady and Yao Ming and were simply no match
for the second-best team in the Western Conference.

"They whipped us," Van Gundy said. "Once the whipping
started, I don't think we competed as hard as I would've liked to
have seen us -- but that was after the whipping started."

The Rockets suffered their worst defeat since the Mavericks beat
them 116-76 in Game 7 of their first-round playoff series last
season. Rafer Alston had 17 and Luther Head added 16 for Houston,
which dropped to 3-13 at the Toyota Center.

Van Gundy said before the game the Mavericks may be better than
the team that handled the Rockets in last year's postseason.

"I don't think they have many weaknesses. I didn't think they
had many weaknesses before, either," he said.

Mavs coach Avery Johnson shrugged off the compliment.

"We just made a few shots and got going pretty well," Johnson
said. "I'm happy with our hustle, I'm happy with our play, but
we're not world beaters."

The Mavericks visit the Clippers on Friday, the first of four
straight games on the West Coast.

"This is the way we wanted to start a road trip," Nowitzki
said.

The Rockets caught an early break when Nowitzki got his second
foul and went to the bench with 3:38 left in the first quarter. The
Mavericks led only 19-14 after the first quarter.

"The disheartening thing is, we played them really tough in the
first quarter," said Alston. "You know we can play with them. Can
you sustain it? That was the key tonight."

With six players injured, the Rockets couldn't.

The Mavericks mounted a 13-4 run bridging the first and second
quarters and led 30-19 after Erick Dampier sank two free throws
with 8:21 left before the break.

Nowitzki returned with 8:41 left in the second quarter and
helped Dallas build the lead to 49-34 by halftime. Guarded by
either Juwan Howard and Ryan Bowen in the first half, Nowitzki had
16 points in only 17 minutes.

"He's a tough matchup," said Juwan Howard. "At his size, he
almost plays like a guard. He can shoot the ball really well and he
is very good off the dribble."

Alston scored twice in the first two minutes of the third
quarter to keep the Rockets within 15, but Nowitzki swished four
straight jumpers, two of them 3-pointers, as the game spun into a
rout.

Houston, the NBA's second-lowest scoring team, missed 11 of 17
shots in the quarter.

"They are really down on their luck with injuries," said Josh
Howard, "but you can't make excuses. You have to play the game."

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