Memphis suffers worst loss under Fratello

DALLAS (AP) -- Just in time for the playoffs, the Dallas Mavericks keep piling up evidence that they've become a defense-minded team and very good at home, too.

Josh Howard scored 23 points to help the Mavs stretch their home winning streak to a season-best eight straight with a 110-89 victory over the Memphis on Monday night, spoiling the Grizzlies' first chance to clinch a playoff spot.

Memphis had plenty of incentive and nearly as much momentum, having won five of six, mostly by wide margins. But Dallas took control in the second quarter and never let the Grizzlies regain the lead.

It turned into a rout -- Memphis' worst loss under coach Mike Fratello and second-worst of the season -- when the Mavericks allowed just 18 points in the fourth quarter. That was a perfect way for Dallas to cap a 4-0 homestand in which opponents averaged under 86 points.

"We don't have to score 30 points per quarter to win," said Dirk Nowitzki, who had 19 points and eight rebounds. "Defense is the key to our success."

Lines like those would have been scoffed at the last few years, with good reason, when Don Nelson and his anything-goes offense was fueling the team's success. But the organization began focusing on defense last summer and then made the biggest change last month when Avery Johnson replaced Nelson on the bench.

Under Johnson, the Mavs are 11-2 and perfect at home. Even after clinching the No. 4 spot in the West in their previous game, and despite being without suspended sixth man Jerry Stackhouse, they continued to give their all against Memphis.

"It's still a work in progress," point guard Jason Terry said. "Our goal is to get better defensively each night and I think we're doing it. Defense is what's going to win us a championship."

Dallas' new attitude was reflected on the stat sheet with things such as a 48-34 edge in rebounding and 15-2 in fast-break scoring. The Mavericks also ended up shooting 49 percent, even after opening 1-of-10.

"Dallas was very good on both ends," Fratello said. "They had the effort points -- second shots, 18 offensive rebounds, they got to every loose ball. They deserve a lot of credit for taking us out of the things we do. A lot of their baskets came from balls they got to first."

Memphis can still get into the playoffs with its next win or the next loss by Minnesota. It could happen as soon as Wednesday, when both teams next play.

The Grizzlies struggled in part because Pau Gasol scored 14 points on just 5-of-15 shooting and Mike Miller added 13 points. This wasn't how they wanted to open a four-game, six-day road trip that also includes games in Houston, Denver and San Antonio.

"We've got to win one of these as early as possible," said center Lorenzen Wright, who had 18 points and seven rebounds.

With Stackhouse suspended for one game without pay because of a skirmish with Utah's Kirk Snyder in a hallway following Saturday night's game, Keith Van Horn and Marquis Daniels knew they were going to have to pick up the slack. They responded perfectly with a 15-3 run early in the second quarter that began with the Mavericks down by five.

Van Horn tied it at 30 and then made a nice pass to set up Daniels' jumper that put Dallas ahead for good. Then Van Horn began padding the lead with a finger roll that turned into a three-point play.

The Mavs led by 13 points before halftime and the Grizzlies could only get within four the rest of the game. Every time Memphis began a rally, Dallas came up with a momentum-killing basket.

Van Horn opened the fourth quarter with four straight free throws, and Devin Harris had a three-point play and fed Michael Finley for a 3-pointer that upped the lead to 14. Howard stretched it to 20 for the first time with 3:26 left by flying through the lane and slamming a miss by Erick Dampier, letting Johnson empty the bench the last few minutes.

Van Horn had 14 points and seven rebounds, and Dampier had six points and 13 rebounds.

Game notes
Memphis' worst loss this season was by 25 points to Minnesota on Nov. 26 when Hubie Brown was still coaching the Grizzlies. ... Dallas won its 53rd game, topping last season's total and matching the fourth-best in club history. ... Twenty-five couples were married at halftime. In addition to several dressed-down brides and grooms, there was a bride with a Nowitzki jersey over her elegant dress and a groom who lettered his last name in white stickers across the back of his tuxedo. ... There was added security after the game in the area where Stackhouse and Snyder scuffled.