Nowitzki puts in 24 as Dallas secures fourth spot

DALLAS (AP) -- The Dallas Mavericks will begin the playoffs on
their home court.

Dirk Nowitzki scored 24 points, and also contributed a key
defensive play and an assist in the final minute to help the
Mavericks beat the Utah Jazz 88-81 Saturday night and wrap up the
fourth seed in the Western Conference playoffs.

"We got what we wanted," said Nowitzki, who added nine
rebounds, five assists and five blocks. "Now we have to focus
ourselves so we can get our game where we want."

The Mavericks' game looks pretty strong already. They won their
seventh straight at home and improved to 10-2 since head coach
Avery Johnson took over for Don Nelson on March 19.

Jason Terry added 14 points and Michael Finley had 13 for Dallas
(52-24), which holds a 5½-game lead over fifth-place Sacramento
(47-30) and won the season series against the Kings 3-1.

Kris Humphries scored 15 points to pace injury-riddled Utah,
which was without Andrei Kirilenko (broken wrist), Carlos Boozer
(strained foot), Raja Bell (bruised shin) and Curtis Borchardt
(knee tendinitis).

"I know they've been hit by injuries, but that team is going to
play hard," Dallas' Keith Van Horn said.

Mehmet Okur added 14 points for the Jazz, who have lost 15 of
its last 19.

"It's not good enough just to be in the game," Humphries said.
"We want to win. We put ourselves in a good position and competed
hard, but it's still an 'L' in the paper."

Dallas was in front by as many as 17 in the third quarter, but
the Mavericks missed 12 of its first 15 field goal attempts in the
fourth. The Jazz narrowed it to 81-80 with 1:41 left on Okur's two
free throws.

After Josh Howard's layup gave the Mavericks an 83-80 lead with
54.8 seconds left, Nowitzki turned to defense to seal the victory.

On Utah's ensuing possession, Nowitzki slapped the ball off the
leg of Okur with 43 seconds left. When Okur complained that no foul
was called on the play, he picked up his second technical of the
night for an ejection.

Nowitzki made the free throw for the technical, then fed Van
Horn for a layup with 21.5 seconds left to stretch Dallas' lead to

"He's our go-to scorer, those other things are just
intangibles," Terry said of Nowitzki. "But when he does (those
other things), that just makes us tougher to beat."

Dallas missed seven of 18 first-half free throws, but still held
a 48-40 lead at intermission.

The Mavericks clamped down on the defensive end in the second
half, holding the Jazz without a field goal for a span of 10:20
late in the third quarter and early in the fourth quarter.

"It takes a close game in the fourth quarter to wake you up,"
Johnson said.

Game notes
After the game, Dallas' Jerry Stackhouse and Utah's Kirk
Snyder scuffled for 40 seconds in a hallway near the Jazz team bus.
Mavericks owner Mark Cuban said no one was hurt and the league had
been notified. "Stack said he was defending himself," Cuban said.
"It started in the game. Right now we're hearing a lot of bits and
pieces and we're investigating." ... Dallas swept the season
series against Utah for the first time. ... Dallas C Erick Dampier
was taken to the locker room for three stitches to close a cut on
his chin in the first quarter. He was back on the floor midway
through the second quarter. Dampier finished with 10 points and
five rebounds. ... The Mavericks are 20-1 when holding their
opponent to under 100 points.

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