Nowitzki pours in career-high 46 points


DALLAS (AP) -- Layups, jumpers, 3-pointers; Dirk Nowitzki was
hitting them all.

Yet the Dallas Mavericks still trailed by 13.

Nowitzki never lost his touch, however, and when his teammates
found theirs the Mavericks pulled away from the Portland Trail
Blazers for a 96-86 victory Saturday night in the opener of their
first-round series.

Nowitzki scored a career-best 46 points, the most ever by a
Maverick in the playoffs and four shy of the overall team record.
He made his first six shots and had 23 in each half. He also had 10

Most importantly, he scored 10 during a 15-1 spurt in the third
quarter that changed the entire game. The key hoop was a 3-pointer
while falling down that put Dallas ahead for good and drew a roar
from a crowd of 20,336 -- the largest in team history.

"I was trying to be aggressive, that was my major thing -- to
get to the basket and the free throw line,'' said Nowitzki, who
finished 16-of-27, going 4-of-5 on 3-pointers and making 10 of 11
free throws. "We have a lot of weapons out there. Tonight, I was
just the one with the hot hand.''

Michael Finley, just getting over a hamstring problem, went from
missing his first six shots to making his next five to finish with
13 points and seven rebounds. He closed the third quarter with a
buzzer-beating jumper then opened the fourth with a 3-pointer that
put the Mavericks up by nine.

"We knew Mike would be there,'' Nowitzki said. "He hit some
shots that really lifted us.''

Steve Nash, the third member of the Big Three that led Dallas to
a franchise-record 60 wins, had 10 points and nine assists -- five
in the first quarter and four in the fourth.

But afterward, the talk was all about Nowitzki.

"I told him at the end of regulation that he will eventually be
one of the best all-around players to ever play the game,'' Dallas
coach Don Nelson said. "He will eventually be able to do the
things that Larry Bird did. That's my vision of him.''

"I've never seen him play that well,'' Finley said. "He was
MVP status. He did all the things we needed him to do.''

Portland's collapse began when Rasheed Wallace went to the
locker room with an ankle injury with 7:23 left in the third.

He was gone less than four minutes, but the Blazers were never
the same again as their playoff losing streak hit eight. They
haven't won a postseason game since Game 6 of the 2000 conference

They'll try again in Game 2 Wednesday night.

"We had a great opportunity to put that team on their heels,
and we didn't,'' said Portland's Scottie Pippen, who had five
points, five rebounds, four assists and a team-worst four turnovers
in 32 minutes. He also wore a sleeve over his left leg to protect a
recent knee injury.

"We allowed them to do some things that we disallowed in the
first half. The most frustrating part is we allowed Dirk too many
points. We have to take him out of the game and make somebody else
beat us.''

Wallace finished with a team-best 26 points and seven rebounds.
He shot 11-of-22 and made three of the Blazers' five 3-pointers.

Reserve Damon Stoudamire had 16 points and Bonzi Wells had 16
points and 10 rebounds.

"We are not going to get dejected over one loss,'' Stoudamire
said. "It is a best-of-seven series. You still have to win four
games. We know we have things to work on, and we have time to work
on them.''

The Mavericks led by nine in the opening minutes, then fell into
their usual bugaboos of poor defense, poor rebounding and an
overreliance on outside shooting.

Portland gained control with its tenacious, multifaceted style.
From the starters to the reserves, everyone was contributing -- the
bench ended up with 39 points -- and the Blazers began pulling away,
much like they did in a 17-point win three weeks ago which ended
with them laughing at the Mavericks.

Then the Mavericks, who said this week they were motivated by
that lack of respect, held Portland to 12 points in the third
quarter. That matched the least they've ever allowed a playoff

Portland lost its aim after halftime, going from 22-of-40 in the
first half to 15-of-42 in the second half.

Game notes
Dallas' previous playoff best was 43 by Rolando Blackman,
now an assistant coach. ... Portland is in the playoffs for the
21st straight year, one shy of the NBA record. The Blazers were
ousted by the eventual champion the last four years. ...
Commissioner David Stern made his first visit to Dallas this
season. ... Portland won both previous playoff series against
Dallas, going 3-0 in 1990 and 4-1 in 1985.