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Nowitzki's 34 leads Mavericks past Suns 122-117
By BOB BAUM, AP Sports Writer
Mar 11, 2009 - 7:34:17 AM

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PHOENIX – Now that Dallas has pulled away from the Phoenix Suns in the race for the final playoff spot in the Western Conference, the Mavericks are setting their sights higher. Dallas, behind a 34-point performance from Dirk Nowitzki, beat Phoenix 122-117 on Tuesday night to widen its lead over the Suns to five games for the eighth and final spot in the West.

Dallas Mavericks' Dirk Nowitzki, left, of Germany, goes up for a shot against Phoenix Suns' Louis Amundson (17) in the second quarter of an NBA basketball game Tuesday, March 10, 2009, in Phoenix. The Mavericks defeated the Suns 122-117. (AP Photo/Ross D. Franklin)

"Make no mistake, though," Mavericks coach Rick Carlisle said. "We're trying to move up. We're not just trying to hang in this thing. We're trying to move up the seeding."

By opening a four-game road trip with a victory, Dallas is just a half-game behind Denver, a game behind New Orleans and 1 1/2 games behind Portland for the seventh through fifth spots in the conference.

Nowitzki scored 23 in the second half to send Phoenix to its fifth straight loss. The Suns' Steve Nash said his team came out flat in the second half, something he couldn't explain considering the importance of the contest.

"Dirk played great. He was unstoppable," Nash said, "but you know I felt like our output in the second half wasn't nearly up to where it could have been. Our concentration, I felt, could have improved a lot. I'm very disappointed with the way we played and competed in the second half."

Jason Terry added 25 points and Jose Barea 16 for Dallas, which snapped a five-game road losing streak. The Mavericks play at Portland Wednesday night.

"The first one is very big for our confidence and now tomorrow night we're going to face another huge challenge," Terry said. "This was good because now we can keep Phoenix in our rearview and keep pushing forward."

Nowitzki said it was important for Dallas to win on the road, something the Mavs hadn't done since Feb. 2 at Orlando.

"We know we can beat anybody at home," he said, "but I think the good teams and the great teams find a way to win big games on the road. That was definitely a big game for us tonight."

Shaquille O'Neal scored 21 on 9-of-10 shooting for Phoenix to pass Elvin Hayes for sixth on the NBA's career scoring list. Nash had 23 points and 13 assists for the Suns. Matt Barnes added 21 points.

"It was a tough loss and we're really disappointed," Phoenix coach Alvin Gentry said, "but we still have 18 games to play. This was not the difference of us being in the playoffs and not being in the playoffs."

Dallas took final control with a 10-2 run late in the fourth quarter. Nowitzki made a pair of outside jumpers to start the spurt, then Jason Kidd sank two 3-pointers and it was 112-99 with 3:08 to play.

O'Neal got his 13th point of the night with 1:34 left in the first half to pass Hayes. With 27,322 points, O'Neal needs 88 to take over fifth place from Moses Malone.

"Pretty good," O'Neal said, "but I'd like to have a win tonight. All that stuff, it's cool, but it's not really important. It's all about winning."

Jazz 112, Pacers 100

At Indianapolis, Mehmet Okur scored 24 points and Utah won its 12th straight. Paul Millsap finished with 22 points and nine rebounds, Ronnie Brewer scored 18 points and Deron Williams had 12 assists for the Jazz, who moved closer to the franchise record of 15 consecutive victories.

Troy Murphy scored 23 points, tying a Pacers home record with seven 3-pointers, and grabbed 13 rebounds.

Cavaliers 87, Clippers 83

At Los Angeles, LeBron James recorded his second straight triple-double with 32 points, 13 rebounds and 11 assists, Mo Williams hit a go-ahead 3-pointer with 6.6 seconds to play, and Cleveland rallied from a 19-point, fourth-quarter deficit.

Al Thornton and Zach Randolph each had 20 points for the Clippers. They used their 30th different starting lineup, with center Chris Kaman returning to action after missing 48 games because of plantar fascitis in his left foot.

Spurs 100, Bobcats 86

At San Antonio, Tim Duncan had 18 points and 11 rebounds, and the Spurs stopped Charlotte's franchise-record winning streak at six.

Raja Bell and Emeka Okafor each had 16 points for the Bobcats, who are a game behind eighth-place Chicago in their bid to make the playoffs for the first time since joining the NBA in 2004.

Knicks 120, Bucks 112

At Milwaukee, Nate Robinson scored 10 of his 32 points in the final five minutes, Larry Hughes added a season-high 39, and New York won on the road for just the eighth time this season.

Charlie Villanueva scored 32 for the Bucks, who came into Tuesday's game clinging to the final playoff spot in the East despite an injury-plagued season.

Thunder 99, Kings 98

At Sacramento, Calif., Jeff Green and Russell Westbrook each scored 24 points, and Oklahoma City held on for its fifth victory in six games.

Spencer Hawes had 20 points, 10 rebounds and five assists for the Kings, and Francisco Garcia made four 3-pointers and scored 18.

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