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Nowitzki paces Mavs runaway win over slumping Pistons

DALLAS -- After using the the first two months of the season
to fiddle with lineups and get healthy, the Dallas Mavericks seem
to have found their groove.

And, suddenly, the Detroit Pistons are streaking in the wrong
direction.

OK, so it's only two losses in a row by the Pistons after their
102-86 loss Wednesday night in Dallas, but their consecutive losses
follow an 11-game winning streak. And they had lost back-to-back
games only one other time.

"Always when you're playing at a high level, you're always
concerned at some point about a little let-up," coach Flip
Saunders said. "You can have a let-up, you cannot play well, but
it shouldn't affect your effort. I didn't think we gave a
consistent effort."

Four nights after the Pistons' 92-85 loss to Boston when they
blew a 12-point lead, this one wasn't even close. They led only 14
seconds against Dallas - after Chauncey Billups hit a short runner
on their first shot of the game to lead 2-0.

"You're going to have nights like this sometimes," Rasheed
Wallace said.

Dirk Nowitzki had 11 of his 23 points by the end of the first
quarter, and led the Mavericks in scoring for the 10th straight
game -- the last five of them victories.

"We're starting to get better every month and that was our goal
after we had a suspect month of November and December," said
Nowitzki, who was 10-of-15 shooting.

Erick Dampier, who sat out the last two games because of a
swollen left knee, was 3-of-3 shooting to extend his streak of
consecutive made field goals to a Mavericks-record 14. He had a
three-point play and a nifty save on a missed shot that he turned
into an assist to Nowitzki during an early surge that put Dallas in
control.

Dampier's last basket was a slam dunk with 4:45 left that made
it 95-75, and the only real flaw in his game was the technical foul
he got for hanging on the rim on that play. He finished with seven
points and six rebounds.

"I'm trying to do things like rebound and present myself on
offense and make free throws," said Dampier, who missed the first
six games of the season after offseason shoulder surgery. "Every
win is a confidence-builder for us. We're trying to build on this.
We're working as a unit."

The 14 consecutive makes by Dampier have come over a three-game
stretch. Since missing all three shots against Cleveland on Dec.
27, he has had games of 6-for-6, 5-for-5 and 4-for-4.

Devin Harris had 19 points while reserves Jerry Stackhouse and
Jason Terry both had 15 points with three 3-pointers each.

Richard Hamilton had 18 points to lead the Pistons, while
Billups had 16.

After his save under the Dallas backboard midway through the
first quarter, Dampier passed the ball to Nowitzki for a 14-foot
jumper. That was the first of three straight baskets by Nowitzki in
a 71-second span - part of a 21-10 surge when Dallas scored on nine
straight possessions to take a double-figure lead.

"It's disappointing. We knew they were a first-quarter team,
and we let them get in a comfort zone," Billups said. "They had
some early looks, and they didn't miss."

The Pistons got within 48-43 by halftime, but Dampier swatted
away a quick shot and Nowitzki hit a 15-foot floater. Harris then
had a one-handed windmill dunk, before another basket by Nowitzki
and a 3-pointer by Harris made it 57-47.

"Everybody contributed," Stackhouse said. "We came out with a
lot of focus. We had good carry-over from practice, and good
carry-over from the first half."

Terry had a pair of 3-pointers, sandwiching a 12-footer by
Nowitzki, in an 8-0 run midway through the third quarter after
Detroit had closed to within 57-51. And the Pistons never got
closer.

Dallas (24-11) moved into a virtual tie for the Southwest
Division lead with idle San Antonio, where the Pistons play on
Thursday night.

Game notes
The last consecutive losses for Detroit (26-9) were at the
Los Angeles Lakers and Sacramento on Nov. 16 and 18. ... Dampier
passed James Donaldson (April 1987) and Jay Vincent (February
1982), who had made 13 shots in a row for Dallas. ... Dallas has
held 12 of their last 14 opponents under 100 points. ... The Mavs
led 32-20 after the first quarter. They are 8-1 this season when
scoring at least 30 points in the first quarter. ... Billups had
three 3-pointers, giving him 792. He came in tied with inactive
Lindsey Hunter for second on Detroit's career list.