Howard helps Mavs to season-high eighth straight win

DALLAS (AP) -- Coming home from a 5-0 West Coast road trip,
Dallas Mavericks coach Avery Johnson feared his club might turn
complacent against the struggling Utah Jazz.

That's what it has come to for the Mavericks: finding things to
worry about.

Dirk Nowitzki shook off a twisted ankle to score 21 points and
Josh Howard scored 24, leading Dallas past Utah 103-89 Saturday
night to up its winning streak to a season-best eight in a row.

"Defensively we're really working well with each other,"
Nowitzki said. "We trust in Avery's system. We're really
contesting shots. We've got to keep it going."

The Mavericks have won 11 of 12, with the only loss coming by
two points in overtime on the road. The streak has taken them into
a tie with the San Antonio Spurs for the best record in the Western
Conference (34-10), and the way they're doing it is the most
impressive part.

Dallas has kept its last eight foes under 100 points, matching a
streak the club last accomplished early in the 2002-03 season that
ended with a trip to the Western Conference finals. The Mavericks
also have won five of their last seven by at least 14 points,
something they were rarely doing earlier this season.

"A lot of people still don't think we play great defense,"
Howard said. "We let that go in one ear and out the other."

Utah lost its second straight and fourth in five games. At
21-23, the Jazz are two games below .500 for the first time since
Dec. 31.

Utah's only lead was 8-6. The Mavs were up by seven soon after
and were hardly challenged the rest of the game. Jazz forward
Andrei Kirilenko even said his team "stopped playing" after they
got within six points late in the third quarter.

"We felt six points was good," he said.

The bigger scare for Dallas was seeing Nowitzki doubled over in
pain after getting his feet tangled with Utah's Keith McLeod late
in the first quarter. He limped off the court and went to the
locker room, but returned midway through the second.

"It was a freak play," Nowitzki said. "He crossed in front of
me and I stepped on his foot. I walked it off, got it retaped and
it felt great."

Nowitzki ended up taking only eight shots, but he made six. He
also made all eight of his foul shots.

Jason Terry scored 18 for Dallas, including a pair of early
3-pointers that helped stoke the crowd. Keith Van Horn scored 15,
with three 3-pointers, and Jerry Stackhouse added 11 points.

Marquis Daniels returned after missing 11 games (strained neck,
family emergency) and had five points, three rebounds, two assists
and a steal in 13 minutes.

The Mavericks outscored the Jazz 12-0 in the paint in the first
quarter and kept up the domination inside, finishing with a 44-18
advantage in that category. The easy points inside contributed to
their 55 shooting percentage. Staying outside contributed to the
Jazz shooting 39 percent.

"We were taking outside shots, but we couldn't make them and it
was tough getting offensive rebounds," said Mehmet Okur, who
scored 16 points. "They're really rolling right now. They're a
better defensive team and they play unselfish basketball."

Devin Brown came off the bench to lead the Jazz with 18 points.
Kirilenko had 17 points and 10 rebounds and Gordon Giricek, who
missed the last game with an injury, scored 15, including a
30-footer to beat the shot clock midway through the fourth quarter.

Utah rookie Deron Williams, who grew up in a Dallas suburb,
stripped Van Horn on a breakaway layup soon after entering the game
in the first quarter and scored seven points.

Game notes
This was the second game of the first-ever NHL-NBA
doubleheader in Dallas. Although the hockey game ran late, arena
workers had the conversion done with plenty of time to spare. ...
Dallas G Devin Harris was inactive for a second straight game
because of a sprained right shoulder. ... Utah dressed only 10
players. Among its inactives were two Dallas-area natives, Greg
Ostertag (suspended) and C.J. Miles (in the Developmental League),
neither of whom were with the team.