<
>

Dirk's 30 leads Mavs past Spurs in West showdown

SAN ANTONIO (AP) -- Dirk Nowitzki's big second half moved the
Dallas Mavericks closer to first place in the Western Conference.

Nowitzki scored 19 of his 30 points in the second half to lead
the Mavericks over the Spurs 92-86 in a showdown of the top two
teams in the Western Conference on Friday night.

"Obviously, the difference in the game was Dirk," Spurs coach
Gregg Popovich said. "He put on an MVP performance. We just
couldn't stop him. He took it away."

The Mavericks (57-19) cut the Spurs' lead to one game in the
Southwest Division with both teams having six games left to play.

At stake is the top seed in the Western Conference with the team
that finishes second getting the No. 4 seed.

"No question, this was a big win for us," Dallas coach Avery
Johnson said. "I thought we showed a lot of mental toughness."

Nowitzki started the game shooting 2-for-9. But he went 7-for-10
during an 18-minute stretch that saw the Mavericks erase an
11-point deficit midway through the second quarter and build a
6-point lead starting the fourth quarter.

"They did a good job on him early, but as the game went on we
found ways to get him some shots," Mavericks guard Jerry
Stackhouse said. "Josh Howard kept us afloat and then Dirk was
huge in the second half and down the stretch."

Howard scored 20 of his 22 points in the first half for the
Mavericks.

The Mavericks and Spurs split the season series, which is the
first tiebreaker.

Dallas has a half-game lead in the second tiebreaker, which is
won-loss record in the Southwest Division.

If it goes to a third tiebreaker, San Antonio has 2-game lead
in won-loss record in the West.

Manu Ginobili led San Antonio (58-18) with 22 points.

The Mavericks limited Tim Duncan and Tony Parker, the Spurs' top
scorers, to a combined 10-for-30 shooting. Duncan scored 13 points
in 38 minutes and Parker had 10 points and three assists in 31
minutes.

"The looks were there," Duncan said. "Tony (Parker) and I
both had an off night, and they capitalized."

Dallas shot 51 percent from the field and held San Antonio to
just 38 percent shooting.

"Whenever you allow a team like Dallas to shoot more than 50
percent, things aren't good for you," said Spurs forward Bruce
Bowen, who had the assignment guarding Nowitzki.

Dallas jumped out to a 63-59 lead 5:52 into the second half.
Nowitzki scored 12 points in the third quarter, going 5-for-6 from
the field and added two free throws.

The Mavericks led 71-65 at the end of the third quarter. The
teams traded baskets for most of the fourth quarter with the Spurs
cutting the lead to three when Parker scored on a drive with 1:42
left in the game. But the Mavericks kept the Spurs scoreless the
rest of the way when Ginobili and Bowen missed shots and Duncan was
called for traveling.

Just as they had in their previous meeting 36 days earlier when
the Mavericks pulled out to a quick lead, Dallas gained an early
advantage again when Howard scored 15 points on 6-for-9 shooting in
the first quarter.

With Howard on the bench for the opening 6:39 of the second
quarter and Nowitzki struggling with his shot -- he missed 7 of 9
shots to start the game -- San Antonio went on a 14-2 run to built
an 11-point lead.

Game notes
Spurs forward Robert Horry, who scored 12 points in 18
minutes in the previous meeting between the teams, missed Friday's
game due to a death in the family. ... San Antonio also missed a
chance to cut into Detroit's lead for the best record in the
league. The Pistons lost 89-87 at Orlando on Friday, which keeps
them three games ahead of San Antonio for the top record.