<
>

Nowitzki blows up with 36 points

DENVER (AP) -- Sensing teammate Michael Finley was about to go on
a scoring streak, Jerry Stackhouse started yelling "Get warm Fin,
get warm!"

Finley did, and then it was Dirk Nowitzki's turn.

Finley hit three straight baskets during a key third-quarter run
and Nowitzki finished it off, scoring 23 of his 36 points in the
second half to help the Dallas Mavericks rally for a 102-88 victory
over the Denver Nuggets on Sunday night.

"Dirk was a tired lad tonight," Mavericks coach Don Nelson
said. "I didn't know that he was going to be able to do that,
playing 44 minutes here. He didn't have a whole lot left in the
tank, but it didn't bother his shot and that was good."

It didn't start off that way.

The Mavericks couldn't get anything going in the first half,
mostly because their two best players were a combined 7-of-20.

Finley shook off his troubles first, then Nowitzki followed and
never let up. The two All-Stars combined for 16 points during a
27-12 run to end the third quarter, turning Dallas' 12-point
deficit into a 75-72 lead.

Nowitzki kept it going from there, finishing the second half
10-of-15 after going 26-for-67 the previous five games.

"All December long I have been in a little slump and it was
really good to go out there and make a couple of shots," Nowitzki
said. "I made a few in the first half, and in the start of the
third I had a couple of good looks that didn't go. It felt really
good in the fourth, and I just kept making them."

Denver was without leading scorer Carmelo Anthony for the fourth
straight game because of a sprained ankle and had to play the
second half without power forward Kenyon Martin due to a strained
back.

The Nuggets did all right in the first half without Anthony, but
couldn't overcome Martin's absence.

Dallas shot 66 percent and had 11 of its 18 offensive rebounds
after Martin went out, sending the Nuggets to their fifth straight
loss and seventh in eight games. Andre Miller had 18 points and
eight assists, and Earl Boykins added 16 points for Denver (13-14),
which dropped below .500 for the first time since Nov. 19.

"Kenyon went down and it was the difference in the game,"
Boykins said. "We were winning the first half because we were able
to defensive rebound. Once Kenyon went out, we weren't able to
defensive rebound the same. That cost us the game."

Finley and Nowitzki didn't make it any easier.

Finley, 3-of-10 in the first half, got Dallas' run going with
three straight baskets, including a floater in the lane after an
offensive rebound to cut Denver's lead to four. He finished with 20
points and eight rebounds.

Nowitzki took over from there, hitting three straight free
throws, a 3-pointer and a pair of jumpers after going 4-of-10 in
the first half. He kept it going in the fourth, hitting three
straight jumpers to help the Mavericks push the lead to 93-86 with
just over three minutes left.

Nowitzki also banked in a long jumper at the shot-clock buzzer
in the final minute, finishing 14-of-25.

"We let up on him for whatever reason," Nuggets coach Jeff
Bzdelik said. "We knew who he was, but we gave him too much air
space."

It was a good thing those two got going after the way the
Mavericks started the game.

Dallas spent much of the first half alternating defenses to
confuse the Nuggets, and it only worked part of the time.

The Mavericks struggled to keep Atlanta from getting to the rim
in a 13-point loss Wednesday and were having the same kind of
trouble early against Denver, allowing the Nuggets to hit four of
their first six shots.

Dallas then switched to a 3-2 zone, which gave Denver some
trouble -- for a little while.

Unable to hit from the outside and forcing it up from the
inside, the Nuggets closed out the first quarter by missing six of
their final eight shots. But Denver got things worked out between
quarters and started getting inside Dallas' zone and out on the
break, using a late 15-4 run to take a 52-43 halftime lead.

The Mavericks were even worse on offense. Missing from the perimeter and unable to get anything going
inside, Dallas missed eight of its first shots and finished the
first quarter 8-of-23. The second quarter wasn't much better and
Dallas shot 36 percent for the half, missing all six of its
3-pointers.

"We really struggled in the first half," Nelson said.

Game notes
Stackhouse was in uniform but didn't play, missing his
fourth straight game with a bruised right hand. ... Nowitzki was
fouled twice on 3-point shots and made all six free throws. ...
Denver dropped to 3-13 when scoring less than 18 fastbreak points
(17).