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Sunday, January 9, 2005

Mavericks continue offensive roll

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— The Dallas Mavericks were waiting to find out whether their recent offensive roll was for real. Even after playing the Indiana Pacers, they're still waiting.

The Mavs made a franchise-best 74.3 percent of their shots in the first half, then cruised to a 121-101 victory over the Indiana Pacers on Saturday night. Dirk Nowitzki led the way with 34 points and 13 rebounds and Michael Finley added a season-high 33.

This game was so lopsided so quickly that it probably told more about Indiana than it did about Dallas. Still, the Mavericks were quite impressive in making 26 of 35 shots over the first two quarters. They scored 77 first-half points against a team that's allowed 77 or less in two full games this season.

"I'm kind of surprised we were able to do that," Dallas coach Don Nelson said. "Sometimes it's not the shots you make but the shots you get. Well, we took high-percentage shots for us and made them, and some of the contested shots we made, too."

The Mavs have won five straight, their longest streak of the season, and they're 7-1 since Jason Terry became the starting point guard. They're averaging more than 110 points per game in that span and have hit 120 three times. All seven wins have been by at least 14 points, too.

Nowitzki, however, was among those questioning the legitimacy of those numbers because they came against teams at or below .500. While the Pacers (16-15) are in that category, too, they were considered the best test yet because of their defense and how well they've been playing since Jermaine O'Neal returned from a suspension.

Instead, Indiana showed how badly it misses Ron Artest, last year's defensive player of the year who is suspended the rest of this season for his role in the brawl with Detroit fans.

"We're not at full strength, but we still have enough to play at a high level," said O'Neal, who scored 32. "They got out and played extremely well in the transition game. I don't take anything away from them. They have a lot of talented players."

The jump-shooting Mavericks scored on 24 of their first 30 possessions, including a run of nine straight. That ended with Nowitzki making a four-point play that gave Dallas a 23-point lead with 8:33 left in the first half.

"Our defense wasn't there at all," guard Reggie Miller said.

The Pacers ended up allowing their most points since a 122-111 loss to Memphis on March 7, 2002. They also lost for the second straight time after winning four in a row and fell to 3-8 against the West after going an East-best 20-8 against the conference last season.

The Pacers better shore up their defense quickly because two of their next three games are against the Suns, the league's highest-scoring team, starting Sunday night in Phoenix.

"We have a chance to get this out of our system and play a better game," coach Rick Carlisle said. "We don't have a lot of time to lament this loss."

Finley set the tone for Dallas, scoring 15 points in the first half. Nowitzki had 11 in the second quarter, when the Mavericks made 14 of 17 shots and were 13-of-14 from the line.

At the half, Dallas was shooting better from the floor (74.3) than Indiana was from the foul line (72.2).

"We came out and were aggressive from the jump," Finley said. "I wanted to show guys the importance of this game and lead by example. We really wanted this game."

Finley and Nowitzki played deep into the fourth quarter, but the game was never in doubt. The only question was whether Dallas would top its best shooting percentage for a game, 67.7, set in 1983. The Mavs didn't come close, making just 14 of 38 in the second half to finish at 54.8.

"Are we among the best teams in the league right now? Probably not," said Jerry Stackhouse, one of five new players in Dallas' optimal nine-man rotation. "But by April, hopefully we can have a lot of momentum going into the playoffs."

Notes: There's no way of knowing how Dallas' first half ranks in NBA history because the league doesn't track shooting percentage by halves. ... The most points Indiana had allowed this season was 113, but this wasn't the Pacers' worst loss. The Clippers beat them by 34. ... Another way of looking at Dallas' 77 first-half points: There already have been 57 instances this season of teams scoring 77 or fewer in a game. ... After tying a franchise-low with 23 rebounds the previous game, Indiana had 34. ... Dallas' Josh Howard played just 11 minutes because of flu-like symptoms.

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