Nowitzki sprains ankle but returns to game for Mavericks

DALLAS (AP) -- The Dallas Mavericks were concerned when top scorer and rebounder Dirk Nowitzki limped to the locker room after spraining his ankle in the first minute of the third quarter.

Nowitzki eased his teammates' fears when he returned to score 11 of his 32 points in the fourth quarter and the Mavericks beat the Philadelphia 76ers 104-92 on Monday night for their 19th victory in their last 20 games.

Jason Terry added 24 points and went 6-for-7 from 3-point range for the Mavericks, who extended their club-record home winning streak to 15 games.

Nowitzki, who also had 13 rebounds, landed on the foot of teammate Adrian Griffin while playing defense early in the second half. But X-rays were negative and Nowitzki was back on the floor to start the fourth quarter. He has scored 30 or more points in three straight games for the Mavericks, who have won six straight.

"It was a lob, I was going for the ball and I landed on Griff's foot," Nowitzki said. "It was a little stiff and I got it re-taped. I felt all right in the fourth quarter."

Dallas led 57-45 when Nowitzki left, and was in front 84-69 when he returned.

Marquis Daniels had 16 points for the Mavericks, who were without three players: Josh Howard (sprained right ankle), Keith Van Horn (upset stomach) and Devin Harris (left thigh injury). Coach Avery Johnson went with an eight-man rotation, giving extensive playing time to Daniels (38 minutes) and Darrell Armstrong (25 minutes).

"I thought it was a gutsy performance by our team," Johnson said. "We were missing three key people ... but Dirk came back to give us a lift when we needed it."

Terry felt the Mavericks were in good shape even if Nowitzki had to sit out the rest of the second half. They led by as many as 20 points in the opening half.

"We knew we were OK," said Terry, who scored 13 points in the third quarter. "We had the lead and luckily we had the depth. Collectively, we did the job and worked it out until [Nowitzki] got back."

Allen Iverson scored 29 points for the Sixers, who had won three straight.

Chris Webber and Kyle Korver had 19 points apiece for Philadelphia, which was able to get as close as 98-92 with 1:57 left on Korver's 3-pointer.

But Erick Dampier's layup with 1:29 left and Nowitzki's two free throws with 35 seconds remaining increased the Mavericks' advantage to 102-92.

"With a team has good as they are, and they're at home, that makes it that much harder," Iverson said. "You can't fall behind like that. We found out the hard way."

The Mavericks had been getting off to sleepy starts, falling behind by 19 and 24 points in their two previous games before rallying for victories.

This time Dallas came out with energy and focus, sprinting to a 13-2 lead over the opening 2:12 with the help of two 3-pointers from Nowitzki and one from Terry.

Dallas finished the first quarter with a 37-20 lead behind Nowitzki's 5-for-6 shooting and eight rebounds. The Mavericks outrebounded Philadelphia 19-4 in the first quarter.

"We started out so poorly," Sixers coach Maurice Cheeks said. "You can't do that against a team like Dallas. We were climbing uphill the whole game."

Nowitzki had 21 first-half points to help Dallas to a 55-45 halftime lead.

Game notes
Philadelphia center Samuel Dalembert has an ankle injury
and is not with the team. ... The 76ers had been victorious in five
of their previous seven trips to Dallas. ... Dallas is 13-0 against
Eastern Conference teams. ... Nowitzki hit the 20-point mark in the
first half for the first time this season. ... Daniels had a
season-best eight assists.