Mavs avoid losing series after blowing 3-0 lead


DALLAS (AP) -- With the Dallas Mavericks on the brink of an epic
meltdown, Dirk Nowitzki went to the gym and worked on his shot.

Not Nick Van Exel. He was too ashamed to leave his house.

"I went home and pulled down the blinds,'' Van Exel said. "I
didn't want to be seen. It's an embarrassing feeling to be up 3-0
and then lose three in a row. But this morning, we couldn't wait.''

Nowitzki's fine-tuned jumper produced 31 points and Van Exel
added 26, sending Dallas past Portland 107-95 Sunday, finally
eliminating the Trail Blazers after three failed attempts.

The Mavericks avoided a spot in NBA infamy by showing the
tenacity they'd been lacking since winning Game 3. They drove the
lane, banged for rebounds and prevented Portland from loading up on
easy baskets.

The Blazers, who seemed to have the upper hand after manhandling
Dallas in Game 6, ran out of answers in the fourth quarter. They
failed to score a basket in the final 3:08, while the Mavericks
made 13 of 17 shots in the period, including four 3-pointers.

The star was Nowitzki, who had four points and no rebounds in
the 22-point loss in Game 6. After concentrating on rebounds the
first half and scoring only eight points, he began looking for his
shot during crunch time.

It was there, too, as he scored seven straight points starting
with 2:52 left that put Dallas ahead for good. The capper was a
3-pointer that made it 100-94, drawing a roar from the crowd of
20,281 that was as much joy as relief.

Nowitzki celebrated by throwing up his arms, hugging Van Exel
then catching Steve Nash as he leaped toward them. The Blazers'
slumped shoulders and blank faces indicated they were out of

"We knew our energy wasn't there in the last three games and
that's where we had to pick it up,'' said Nowitzki, who had 11
rebounds. "We had to be more physical in the paint and rebound the
ball. We worked hard all season to get the home-court advantage and
we used that advantage today.''

Now they'll have to try doing it all over again in the second
round against the Sacramento Kings. Game 1 is Tuesday night in

"This was a physically and mentally draining series,'' said
Michael Finley, who had 14 points and eight rebounds. "Nothing
Sacramento can do will be tougher than what we faced here.''

Although Portland didn't become the first NBA team to overcome a
3-0 deficit, the Blazers earned respect for becoming just the third
team to stretch a series to seven games after losing the first

Whether it was the absence of Dale Davis (strained groin) or
Scottie Pippen's knee still not being at full strength, Portland
lacked the moxie it showed the previous three games.

The Blazers rarely sustained runs, instead hanging tough mostly
through tenacity. Dallas even matched them in rebounds with 42.

"We just couldn't get it done. It's a disappointment,'' said
Damon Stoudamire, who had 17 points and nine assists. "The last
week has been fun. I think it's shown a lot about the character,
the heart that we have.''

Portland overcame a scoreless first half from Rasheed Wallace
and Bonzi Wells and led 90-88 on a 3-pointer by Wallace with 4:43
left. Several players said an offensive foul on Arvydas Sabonis
away from the ball with 2:12 left and Dallas up two was the turning

Pippen dribbled out the final 10 seconds, pounding the ball into
the hardwood with his head down. As the buzzer sounded, he shook
hands with Mavericks coach Don Nelson. The teams then lined up to
congratulate each other on a tense, exciting finale -- and series.

"By no means am I upset,'' Portland coach Maurice Cheeks said.
"It just showed we had players who care about playing, who care
about winning and that we have a little more strength mind-wise
than people think we do.''

Wallace scored 12 of his 17 in a row during the middle of the
fourth. Sabonis had 16, eight in the opening minutes when covered
by surprise starter Eduardo Najera, who is seven inches shorter.
Zach Randolph had 14 points and 10 rebounds, Ruben Patterson scored
12 and Wells added 11.

Van Exel made 10 of 15 shots and either scored or assisted on
Dallas' first seven field goals of the fourth quarter. Nash had 21
points, seven assists and six rebounds.

With Dallas in jeopardy of flushing away the best season in its
23-year history -- a 14-0 start, 60 wins -- Nowitzki worked out
Saturday even though the team was off after flying back from

He was looking to get back the stroke that produced 46 points in
the opener and 42 in Game 3. He obviously found it.

"He's unbelievable,'' Van Exel said. "When you need a big
basket, he comes up with it. His confidence right now is sky

Game notes
Portland fell to 8-4 in its red road uniforms. ... This was
the first time the Mavericks won a playoff series at home since
beating Denver in the second round in 1988. That also was the only
other seven-game series Dallas has ever won. ... Good omen for the
Mavs: Portland was ousted the last four years by the eventual