<
>

Mavs lose to Suns, miss chance to gain on Spurs

PHOENIX (AP) -- A late-season swoon has the Dallas Mavericks
waving goodbye to any hopes to have the best regular-season record
in the West.

Shawn Marion scored 29 points and the Phoenix Suns used a
barrage of 3-pointers to beat the Mavericks 117-104 Thursday night.

Tim Thomas added 22 points and Raja Bell 21 -- on 8-for-9
shooting -- to hand Dallas its second road loss in two nights and
seventh defeat in the last 14 games. Boris Diaw scored 16 and Eddie
House 13 for the Suns.

The Mavericks trail San Antonio by 1½ games with two to play in
the regular season. If Dallas can't catch the Spurs, the Mavericks
would slide to the No. 4 playoff spot in the West.

"Our season is not over because of two disappointing losses,"
Mavericks coach Avery Johnson said. "We pretty much know where
we're going to finish now. The only thing that really matters for
us is to get guys healthy mentally and physically.

"We'll continue to try to do that and hopefully when we lace
them up next Saturday or Sunday we'll be ready to play."

Despite Dallas' 114-102 loss at Golden State on Wednesday night,
the Mavericks' hopes for the best record in the West gained life
with the Spurs' loss at home to Orlando earlier Thursday.

But the Suns made 8-of-9 3-pointers in the first quarter to take
a 36-25 and never trailed again. Phoenix made 16 3s -- two shy of
its season-high and three short of its franchise record -- in 24
attempts. Thomas made 6-of-7 3s in his second consecutive start.
Bell was 5-for-5 from 3-point range, 4-for-4 in the second half.

"We had a lot of guys knocking down shots," Bell said.
"That's what happens when you have productivity across the board.
It's hard for one guy to go cold. Everybody is going to have their
moments of being hot."

Dirk Nowitzki scored 36 for the Mavericks, who gave Jerry
Stackhouse the night off to rest.

"We dug ourselves a pretty big hole against a great offensive
team," Nowitzki said. "They were shooting the lights out -- Raja
and Tim Thomas. They were on fire. Down the stretch Raja hit some
big shots when we were right there."

With his team locked into the No. 2 playoff spot in the
conference, Suns coach Mike D'Antoni sat Marion, Steve Nash, Bell
and Thomas through the first 6:27 of the final quarter, when the
Mavericks rallied to cut a 13-point deficit to 100-94 on Nowitzki's
drive with 5:33 to play.

All four came back, and with the Suns leading 104-98, Diaw
blocked Jason Terry's layup try, Bell made a 3-pointer, then Thomas
sank another and it was 110-98 with 2:54 left. Dallas never got it
to single digits again.

D'Antoni said he would have preferred sitting all four down for
the entire quarter.

"It was a gamble" to bring them back," he said, "and if
someone had gone down I would have probably been ran out of town,
but they fought too hard to lose. They deserved to win it."

Four flagrant fouls were called in the second half -- two on each
team. D'Antoni didn't mind seeing some toughness.

"We got a little testy out there, they got a little testy,"
D'Antoni said. "I thought it was a nice atmosphehre, and we won a
nice game."

The rough play didn't surprise the Mavericks' Jason Terry, who
scored 18 points.

"Not at all," he said. "This is a rivalry that's been brewing
for two years now."

House's 3-pointer put Phoenix ahead 43-29 with 9:26 left in the
first half. The Suns led by 14 four more times in the quarter
before taking a 60-45 lead at the break on Marion's soaring,
one-handed tip-in off Nash's lob pass with 9.8 seconds left.

Marion made 8-of-9 shots for 19 first-half points, while Thomas
added 14.

Things got nasty in the third quarter, when the Bell, Thomas and
Dallas' Erick Dampier drew flagrant fouls -- and Nowitzki was called
for a technical.

The first of Bell's three 3s in the quarter put Phoenix up
79-61. Bell's flagrant foul came in an 8-0 Dallas run that cut the
lead to 69-59 on Nowitzki's 17-footer. But another 3 by Bell
triggered a 14-3 Suns surge. Dampier's flagrant on Marion's dunk
attempt came near the end of the Phoenix run. Marion made one of
two free throws, then sank a 17-footer.

Dallas scored nine in a row after Thomas' flagrant foul on
Nowitzki and was down 90-77 after three.

The Suns picked up where they left off in a 123-110 win at
Sacramento on Tuesday night, when they outscored the Kings 72-42 in
the second half.

Game notes
The Suns need nine 3-pointers in their final three games to
break their NBA record of 796 set last year. ... The teams split
their season series 2-2. ... Thomas sprained his right index finger
in the second quarter and played with a brace in the second half.
... Dallas remains one victory shy of its franchise record for wins
in a season, 60 set in 2002-03.