Mavs pick up slack without Nowitzki; Kings continue to slide

SACRAMENTO, Calif. -- Although Dirk Nowitzki was sick and missed the game, it still seemed at times like business as usual for the mighty Dallas Mavericks.

With their MVP candidate recuperating from food poisoning in a Sacramento hotel, the NBA's best team mixed in enough firepower with gritty defense when it mattered most to beat the slumping Sacramento Kings 97-93 Tuesday night.

Josh Howard scored 29 points and Jason Terry added 27 for the Mavericks, who played only their second game all season without Nowitzki, their leading scorer.

"It wasn't so much guys stepping up, we have guys that do that all the time even when Dirk is here," said veteran Jerry Stackhouse, who came off the bench for 23 points, five rebounds and five assists. "Our focus tonight was on the defensive side of the ball. We were real disappointed with how we played (Sunday in a loss) against Phoenix."

Dallas limited Sacramento to 39 percent shooting. Twice in the final two minutes, the Mavericks blocked interior shots by Ron Artest that could have cut their lead to a lone basket.

"We showed some gutsy defense down the stretch and protected our basket," Mavericks coach Avery Johnson said. "(Erick) Dampier and (DeSagana) Diop made big blocks and that helped us win this game."

With the Mavs trailing 70-69, Stackhouse opened the fourth quarter with a three-point play and Dallas scored eight straight points to assume the lead for good.

It was Stackhouse delivering the game's biggest basket, making a jumper over the outstretched hand of Artest with 28 seconds left to put the Mavericks ahead 93-88. Both Terry and Stackhouse made two free throws in the final 12 seconds to preserve the victory.

"He (Artest) is a tough defender. I was able to make him move and get a little space for a shot," Stackhouse said. "It was not a shot I want to live by, but it went in."

Howard got off to a quick start and the Kings never did find an effective way to shut him down. Howard made 10 of 21 shots, all nine free throws, and collected eight rebounds. Terry was equally effective, shooting 10-of-20 and getting five assists and five rebounds.

"You take Dirk off and they are a different team," Kings coach Eric Musselman said. "But they had several guys who stepped up. Stackhouse played extremely well down the stretch and Howard and Jason Terry had good games."

Artest had 25 points and 10 rebounds for the Kings, who have lost four straight and 11 of 13. Kevin Martin had 17 points and nine rebounds, Mike Bibby had 16 points and Shareef Abdur-Rahim added 12.

It was another frustrating game for the Kings, who have nearly played their way out of contention for a playoff berth. They fell six games behind the eighth-place Clippers with nine games left and are likely to miss the postseason for the first time in nine years.

"We are professionals and we are all here for a reason, so we still want to go out every night and get some wins before this season is over," Kings reserve John Salmons said.

Game notes
Martin made 11 of 15 free throws and is on pace to have the second-most free throw attempts in a season behind Otis Thorpe during the Sacramento era. Howard took 12 shots in the opening quarter and scored 14 points. Valuable reserve Corliss Williamson missed his second straight game for the Kings with a sore right heel. Through three quarters, the Kings shot 31 free throws and Dallas attempted five. Sacramento made 28 of 40 attempts, while the Mavs finished 20-of-23.