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Dirk scores 31 as Mavs open playoffs with win

DALLAS (AP) -- Dirk Nowitzki had all week to think back on the
terrible way the Mavericks started the playoffs last year. Minutes
into this postseason, it was clear he wasn't going to let that
happen to Dallas again.

Nowitzki scored 19 points during a surge that produced 60 by
halftime against the NBA's stingiest defense, then the Mavericks
got key baskets from a variety of players the rest of the way to
beat the Memphis Grizzlies 103-93 in the opener of their
first-round series Sunday night.

"We wanted to come out a lot more aggressive and we did,"
Nowitzki said. "It's good to get the first one out of the way,
even though it wasn't a great game."

A 1-0 lead might not seem like much for a team that won 60
regular-season games, but it's a big relief for Dallas, which started the playoffs last year with two home losses. Although the
Mavs recovered to beat the Houston Rockets in seven games, they
don't want to work that hard with the San Antonio Spurs likely
looming in the second round.

"We learned from last year," Nowitzki said.

The MVP candidate opened this game with a strong drive to the
basket, drawing a foul. He made his first jumper soon after and had
13 points after one quarter.

Nowitzki finished with 31 points and 11 rebounds. He made 13 of
15 free throws, missing only his first and last attempts.

"The first couple of possessions I wanted to get ball in my
hands and feel good about myself," said Nowitzki, adding that he
feared being rusty after sitting out the season finale. "I wanted
to find my rhythm real quick and was able to knock a few shots down
to get my confidence up."

As good as Nowitzki was, Dallas' energy and depth went a long
way, too.

Backup center Erick Dampier exemplified both. A huge
disappointment last season after signing a $73 million contract, he
provided 12 points, 12 rebounds and plays like a crowd-thrilling
dunk off a loose ball just before halftime and an offensive rebound
that turned into a three-point play early in the fourth quarter.

"I can give that type of effort every night. I know I'm capable
of it," said Dampier, who was memorably chastised on the court by
Nowitzki during the playoffs last year. "I've got to put it all
together."

Memphis hung on as long it could considering its star player,
Pau Gasol, missed all five shots he took in the first half,
apparently limited by a foot injury that's nagged him the last
week. Then he swished a jumper at the start of the third quarter
and scored 13 in the period, helping the Grizzlies get within
75-74.

But Marquis Daniels, another Dallas reserve, answered
immediately with a powerful baseline dunk, sparking a rally that
culminated in him taking a steal all the way for a finger-roll
layup that made it 96-82. On Memphis' next possession, Jake Tsakalidis committed a foul and got a technical for complaining.

The frustration was understandable -- the Grizzlies are now 0-9
in their postseason history, extending what already was the wrong
kind of league record. After being swept by San Antonio and Phoenix
the past two years, they were hoping that coming into the playoffs
on an 8-1 roll would change their luck.

"We have to be concerned a little bit, but at the same time we
have to do a better job overall in playing with a little bit more
hustle," said Gasol, who finished with 24 points.

The Grizzlies get another chance in Game 2 on Wednesday night.

Dallas was able to spread its scoring beyond Nowitzki. Jason Terry had 20 points and its next three high scorers all came off
the bench: Jerry Stackhouse with 14, Daniels with 13 and Dampier.

Josh Howard, who is playing with a sore back, scored eight in 18
minutes. Devin Harris didn't score but played more than 11 minutes
after missing nearly all of the last five weeks with a quadriceps
problem. Daniels had a sore hamstring.

"For us to be injured and trying to get some guys back, I guess
we've got to be pleased with the results," Mavs coach Avery
Johnson said.

Last year, Johnson had been on the job only about a month when
the playoffs began and made the rookie mistake of overworking his
players before the opener. They were left so flat they lost twice
at home to Houston, but rallied to become only the third team in
playoff history to win a seven-game series after that kind of
start.

Johnson was more careful this time, and the strong start was his
reward. The Mavs' fresh legs and hungry attitude showed in a 24-6
rebounding edge at halftime that included 12 offensive rebounds.

"We've got to play better defensively and get more
opportunities on the offensive end," Memphis coach Mike Fratello
said.

Eddie Jones scored 16 points for the Grizzlies, with nine coming
in a row during the first quarter. Tsakalidis and Bobby Jackson
scored 11.

Game notes
Memphis allowed a league-low 88.5 points per game this
season. ... Mavs C DeSagana Diop said he was so nervous before his
first playoff game that he got only about 20 minutes sleep during
his normal two-hour pregame nap. ... Dallas fans showed a good
memory by booing Jackson when he entered the game. Jackson was part
of Sacramento teams that gave the Mavs fits in previous
postseasons.