Phoenix is denied NBA's best mark at the break

PHOENIX (AP) -- Before the Dallas Mavericks embarked on a tough
four-game road trip leading up to the NBA All-Star game, coach Don
Nelson had a heart-to-heart talk with Michael Finley, asking him to
be more productive.

Finley sure has responded.

He matched his season high with 33 points and Josh Howard had a
career-high 30, helping the undermanned Mavericks rally from a
10-point halftime deficit for a 119-113 victory over Phoenix on
Thursday night.

The loss dropped the Suns to 41-13 and denied them an
opportunity to finish with the best record in the NBA before the
All-Star break. Instead, that honor goes to the idle San Antonio
Spurs (41-12).

Dallas (35-16) completed a perfect four-game trip with the
victory. The Mavericks beat three of the league's elite -- Phoenix,
Sacramento and Seattle, in addition to Golden State -- on the swing
through the West.

"We went into four hostile environments and got four big
wins," Finley said.

Finley, one of the league's elite players for many years, had
been playing below par before his talk with Nelson. His shots
weren't falling and he wasn't his usual aggressive self. Even some
of his teammates wanted Finley to step up his game.

"They harped on me to be more aggressive," he said.

"More than offense, we wanted consistent leadership from him,
more rebounding and tougher defense," assistant coach Avery
Johnson said. "Sometimes, you need a heart-to-heart with the

Finley scored 25 points in the second half. In the fourth
quarter, he connected on three 3-pointers and scored 13 points.

Howard, a second-year pro, surpassed his previous high of 26,
set earlier this season.

The Suns concentrated on stopping Dirk Nowitzki, the league's
third-leading scorer with a 27.1 average, and did a good job,
holding him to 16 points. He also had 16 rebounds. But the other
Mavericks came up big offensively.

"They hit off Nowitzki all the time and that opened the floor
for everyone else," Howard said.

Nelson obviously was pleased with the Mavericks' performance on
the road.

"That was an incredible trip," he said. "We just capped off a
perfect week."

Amare Stoudemire topped the Suns with 31 points and 12 rebounds,
Quentin Richardson had 22 points, and Steve Nash added 19 points
and 11 assists -- the 11th consecutive game he had at least that
many assists.

Dallas trailed by four points starting the final period, but
surged in front for good at 95-93 on a layup by Howard with 8:05

"We didn't stop them in the second half," Phoenix coach Mike
D'Antoni said. "We played well in the first half, but in the
second, we gave them 74 points and that is way too many. Howard
played well and Finley made unbelievable shots."

The game started slowly for two teams with high-powered
offenses, and the score was only 22-22 after one period. However,
the pace picked up in the second quarter, when the Mavericks hit
eight of their first nine field-goal attempts and bolted to a 43-37
lead with 6 minutes remaining.

Then, the Suns ran off 11 straight points, capped by a tap-in
and a 3-pointer by Richardson, and led 48-43. After Nowitzki hit a
jumper, the Suns finished the half with a 7-0 spurt, including an
11-foot jumper by Stoudemire at the buzzer. That combined 18-2
burst gave the Suns a 55-45 lead at intermission.

By that time, they already had three players in double figures --
Stoudemire (16), Nash (12) and Richardson (10). The Suns did a lot
of their damage in the paint, outscoring Dallas 20-10 in that area.

Howard's 13 points topped the Mavericks, who hit only one of
their final 10 shots in the second period.

Dallas, sparked by Finley's 12 points and Howard's 10, cut the
Suns' lead to one point, 84-83, in the closing seconds of the third
quarter, but Nash's three-point play with nine-tenths of a second
remaining gave Phoenix an 87-83 advantage at the end of the

Game notes
The Mavericks were missing three of their key players --
center Erick Dampier (strained tendon in right foot), swingman
Jerry Stackhouse (strained right groin) and point guard Marquis
Daniels (appendectomy). ... All five Suns' starters -- Stoudemire,
Nash, Shawn Marion, Richardson and Joe Johnson -- will participate
in various activities during All-Star weekend in Denver. ... The
crowd of 18,422 was the Suns' 12th sellout of the season; they had
only six all last season. ... Phoenix's 16-point scoring increase
from last season is the largest in the shot clock era, and its
average of more than 110 points is the highest in the league in 10
years. ... Dallas' 38 points in the third quarter matched the high
against the Suns this season.