Dirk Nowitzki scored 31 points, a dozen in a row at one point, and Josh Howard overcame a bloody nose and swollen eye to add 13 points and a career-high seven steals as the Mavericks beat the Utah Jazz 130-101 on Wednesday night to clinch the final playoff spot in the Western Conference.
"If we continue to win, we have a real opportunity to move up," Mavericks coach Rick Carlisle said. "So that is the challenge."
With four games left, Dallas matched the Jazz at 47-31 for seventh place and evened the season series. They are within a game of sixth-place New Orleans, which lost at home to Phoenix.
"Knowing the importance of each game and the sense of urgency, we treat every game like it's a Game 7 playoff game," said Jason Terry, who added 21 points off the bench. "We go out there and fight and scrap and do whatever it takes to win. We've got each other's back. Getting Josh Howard healthy is definitely another key factor."
The Mavericks play their next two games against the Hornets, first in Dallas on Friday night before going to New Orleans on Sunday.
After Utah closed within 73-64 when Deron Williams made a free throw to convert a three-point play midway through the third, Nowitzki scored 12 consecutive points for the Mavs -- and 15 of their last 18 in the quarter.
Utah never recovered, not that the Jazz threatened all that much anyway.
"It was like they wanted it more, like the game meant more to them. It's disappointing," said Williams, who is from nearby in The Colony.
"They beat us all night long. They were so much quicker. We looked like we'd been on the road for 10 months," coach Jerry Sloan said. "They just destroyed us. They deserved to win because we didn't make it an contest for them."
The push for Dallas is to miss opening the playoffs in Los Angeles against Kobe Bryant's team. Dallas is 0-3 this season against the Lakers (62-16).
Since a 107-102 loss at 22-win Memphis on Friday night, the Mavericks have had their highest-scoring two-game stretch in more than five years. They won 140-116 Sunday against Phoenix, the team they eliminated from playoff contention by beating the Jazz.
Howard, who missed 12 of the previous 15 games with a sore left ankle, sustained a cut near his left eye and a bloody nose when he was popped in the face attempting a shot with four minutes left in the first quarter.
Howard didn't return until four minutes into the second quarter. He had to leave again early in the second half, but came back.
"It kept bleeding. I was playing with one eye. But I was able to see the ball to steal it," said Howard, who was only 3-of-11 shooting. "As long as my eyeball wasn't falling out or I was half dead, I was going to come back out there."
After Nowitzki's spurt to end the third quarter that pushed Dallas in front by 19, he and Howard sat the rest of the game.
Jason Kidd had two of his 10 assists in the Nowitzki run. There was a near handoff in traffic that led to Nowitzki's 15-footer, then a couple of possessions later after Kidd moved into the lane with the help of a pick from Nowitzki, he kicked it back out to the 7-foot German for another long jumper.
Things were going so well for Nowitzki that his 3-pointer rattled off the rim, bounced high in the air and then fell through to close his run.
Williams scored 18 points to lead all five Utah starters in double figures, and also had 12 assists. Andrei Kirilenko had 17 points.
The Jazz were coming off a victory in New Orleans, but have lost seven of their last nine road games and their only lead in Dallas was 4-2. They play at San Antonio on Friday, then return home to play Golden State and the Clippers before finishing the regular season at the Lakers.
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