Mavs pull even with Suns in West finals

DALLAS (AP) -- Here's a tip for anyone who figured the Dallas

Mavericks and Phoenix Suns were going to chase each other up and

down the court throughout the Western Conference finals.

That's not really the way the Mavs play anymore.

Game 2 on Friday night was a lot more like it.

Daily Dime

This was Josh Howard's night. This was his career night. This was Howard going from game-time decision to game-changer, even though he hadn't shed the hot pack on his ankle -- hadn't even changed into his uniform shorts -- by the time Avery Johnson was running through his final pre-game instructions.

To read more of Marc Stein's analysis in the Friday night Daily Dime, click here.

Dirk Nowitzki had 30 points, 14 rebounds and six assists, and

Josh Howard scored 29 points, but the main reason the Mavericks

beat the Suns 105-98 was their defense -- yes, defense.

Dallas limited Phoenix to a season-low 17 points in the first

quarter, then made stops on six of seven possessions during a 12-2

run early in the fourth quarter that put the Mavs ahead for good.

"I thought defensively we took a little bit more of a

challenge," Dallas coach Avery Johnson said. "In the first game,

it was like they were playing against themselves. We had some

Mavericks in most of the plays tonight, which I thought was a key

for us."

The Suns missed 13 of their last 18 shots until Steve Nash

scored a meaningless basket in the closing seconds. It was his only

points and his only attempt of the second half, which perhaps best

sums up the way Dallas turned things around after allowing 121

points in the opener.

Johnson blistered his team Thursday, primarily for allowing 32

fast-break points. Phoenix had only 21 this time, and plummeted

from 72 points in the paint to 46.

"We were just better at getting back defensively," said Jason

Terry, who scored six of his 18 points during the game-changing


Nash, the tone-setter for the Suns just like he was for the

offensive-minded Mavericks of the early 2000s, had 16 points and 11

assists. He got only three assists in the second half once Dallas

honed in on stopping him.

"In hindsight, I would've maybe been more aggressive," Nash

said. "But I felt like I was making the right play. I was drawing

two players and throwing it to the open man."

The Suns head home for Game 3 on Sunday night with the familiar

feeling of being 1-1.

Phoenix has lost all three of its Game 2s this postseason and

five straight dating to last season. Going back to 1999, which

predates anyone on the roster, the Suns have dropped 10 of 11, the

exception coming during a first-round sweep of Memphis last year.

"We gave ourselves a chance to win and that's all you can ask

for," said forward Tim Thomas, who scored 20 points, including

several key 3-pointers. "We wanted to be greedy and get two

(wins). We go back to the desert to do it all over again."

Howard was considered iffy to even play because of a bone bruise

that knocked him out of Game 1 in the opening minutes. He scored 13

in the third quarter and finished one shy of his career high. The

Mavericks are now 22-0 this season when he scores at least 20.

"It was sore, but I was able to keep playing," said Howard,

who decided to play about an hour before tipoff. "I had some pain,

cutting in and out, but for the most part it felt good."

Howard also is Dallas' best perimeter defender, so having him

back certainly helped on the other end of the court, too.

The interior defense was boosted by the return of DeSagana Diop.

Diop lost his starting job at the end of the second round and

didn't even get off the bench in Game 1. Keith Van Horn actually

started at center, but the game changed when Diop replaced him

midway through the first quarter.

He quickly trashed the mask he was supposed to wear to protect a

broken nose -- "I couldn't breathe," he said -- but he never

avoided contact. He had 11 rebounds and four points in 32 minutes

and helped limit Boris Diaw to 25 points, nine less than he scored

in the opener.

"I felt I could help by running the floor and playing

defense," Diop said.

Diop's impact was immediate, too. The Suns went from making six

of their first 10 shots to making only one of their next 13,

missing nine in a row along the way. Dallas capitalized with a 14-0


Shawn Marion had 19 points and 19 rebounds for Phoenix. Leandro

Barbosa scored eight in place of injured starter Raja Bell (calf),

whose status is likely to be clarified when the team returns home


The Suns used only two reserves, getting just 10 points off the

bench. The starters all played at least 38 minutes.

The Mavericks got 17 from their bench, led by 11 from Jerry

Stackhouse. He didn't have any until the closing seconds of the

third quarter, either.

Phoenix snapped out of its slow start to lead 52-47 at halftime.

After a tight third quarter, Dallas went ahead for good on a pair

of free throws by Terry with 8:10 left.

Even when the lead grew to seven with 1:17 left, the Mavs were

still wary because the Suns erased a nine-point deficit with less

than four minutes left in Game 1.

Thomas gave Dallas fans reason to worry when he hit a 3-pointer

that ended the Mavs' go-ahead scoring run, then another with 40

seconds left that got Phoenix within 100-96.

"Coach turned to me and asked if I could hit the 3s and of

course I am going to say, `Yes," Thomas said. "He just kept them


After Stackhouse made one of two foul shots with 38 seconds to

go, Thomas got a good look off an inbounds pass, but his shot

bounced off the rim and over the backboard. The game was

essentially sealed then.

"It came down to making plays at the end of the game,"

Stackhouse said. "We didn't do that in Game 1."Game notes
This was the first time in eight playoff meetings the last

two years that Phoenix's leading scorer had less than 30. ...

Dallas ended a two-game home losing streak, which matched its

longest of the season. ... The Mavericks won for the first time in

five conference finals games at the American Airlines Center. They

were 3-0 at their previous home, Reunion Arena. ... Phoenix's

lowest-scoring first quarter was 18 in the regular season, 22 in

the playoffs. ... In a clever takeoff of Nike's LeBron James

playoff ad campaign, some Mavs fans wore black T-shirts that read,

"I am a Nowitzness."