Mavericks 101, Hornets 77

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DALLAS (AP) – The Dallas Mavericks sure are making a run at the top seed in the Western Conference.

A day after beating San Antonio to make it a legitimate race again, Dallas drew within a half-game by beating the New Orleans Hornets 101-77 Saturday night.

The victory has added significance because it was against a division foe, which could become the deciding tiebreaker if the Mavericks (58-19) and Spurs (58-18) finish with the same record.

Dirk Nowitzki had 20 points and eight rebounds and Josh Howard added 19 points and eight rebounds, most of it coming early as Dallas came out with the same energy it showed in a 92-86 victory over the Spurs on Friday night. The Mavericks led by 20 before halftime and the Hornets never got closer than 15 the rest of the way en route to their 17th straight loss to Dallas.

“My guys are pretty smart,” Mavs coach Avery Johnson said before the game, expecting a strong start. “They know exactly where they are. I kind of like that we have something to play for, playing against playoff teams.”

The Mavericks sealed their season record against Southwest Division foes at 13-3. The Spurs are 11-3 in division play with games left Sunday at home against Memphis and at Houston in the season finale.

Should San Antonio keep pace with Dallas in that category and still wind up tied in the overall standings, the Spurs have a strong three-game advantage in the next tiebreaker, conference record.

The Mavs seemed out of the chase for the top spot after losing three straight games last week, but have rebounded with four straight wins, including the one in San Antonio that was pivotal because it split their head-to-head record, which is the first tiebreaker.

Dallas showed no letup against New Orleans, running at every opportunity and often using defense to create those opportunities. The Mavericks made their first four shots and were up by 12 points before the first quarter ended. They opened the second quarter with five straight shots.

The Hornets were within 18 at the start of the fourth, but Dallas got the lead back to 29 even after emptying the bench.

Jason Terry scored 19 points for the Mavericks, Marquis Daniels had 13 and Jerry Stackhouse had nine points and eight assists.

Rasual Butler led the Hornets with 14 points and P.J. Brown, who was questionable because of a sprained left ankle, didn’t start but scored 12.

Notes: The NBA rejected the Mavs’ request for a roster exemption that would’ve allowed them to carry 16 players because of injuries. … New Orleans’ Byron Scott is 0-15 against Dallas, including his time running the New Jersey Nets. As a player with the Los Angeles Lakers, Scott had no trouble beating the Mavericks, especially in the playoffs. … Mavs G Adrian Griffin (hamstring) will practice Sunday in hopes of returning to the starting lineup Monday. Johnson said G Devin Harris (left quadriceps) is “making progress,” and is likely to play the last two regular-season games, perhaps even three. … Howard fell a point shy of his fourth straight 20-point game.

AP-ES-04-08-06 2302EDT

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