PLAYOFFS, DAL Wins series 4-2
54-28, 23-18 Away
60-22, 34-7 Home

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.

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."