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Howard, Mavericks punish injury-riddled Knicks

Mar 21, 2007 - 7:55 AM NEW YORK (Ticker) -- While Josh Howard and the Dallas Mavericks cruised, the New York Knicks continued to pile up bruises.

Howard had 24 points and 10 rebounds and superstar Dirk Nowitzki also added 24 as the Dallas Mavericks used a decisive third-quarter run en route to a 92-77 victory over the Knicks.

Erick Dampier had 10 points and 13 rebounds for the Mavericks, who posted their third straight win since a rare two-game skid. Dallas (55-11) now is 4 1/2 games ahead of Phoenix (51-16) for the top spot in the Western Conference and the NBA's best record.

"(The losing streak) just shows that we have a ways to go," Mavericks coach Avery Johnson said. "We never say that we were trying to get the best record. You never heard us talk about the regular season. Everything since we've been here has always been geared for the playoffs.

"Fortunately, we won our share of games and we're not going to give any of them back. But we're gearing up for the playoffs."

After dropping two straight games for the first time this season, the Mavericks have returned to form thanks to the versatile Howard, who continued to punish defenders. The All-Star forward shot 9-of-18 from the floor, using a combination of jumpers and drives.

"Josh has been steady for us. He's just quiet and unassuming," Johnson said. "If you guys get a chance to do what I'm doing, and work with a guy like Josh every day, he went through the ups and downs. He's just a great guy to coach and our relationship 1-on-1 is stronger this year."

Nowitzki shot 10-of-15 from the field, including nailing his only 3-pointer, for Dallas, which outscored New York, 24-13, in the third quarter for a 70-56 cushion.

"(Nowitzki and I) just been able to find our spots and being confident when we take (shots)," Howard said. "Our teammates have confidence in us when we take them."

It was a costly loss for New York, which has been hurt by injuries all season. Late-game go-to guy Jamal Crawford (ankle), forward David Lee (ankle) and forward Quentin Richardson (back) all continued to be out of the lineup, and it got worse on Tuesday.

Forward Channing Frye was poked in the eye and left with six minutes left in the third quarter and red-hot Stephon Marbury took a hard fall late in the fourth quarter and left with unspecified injuries.

"Channing and then Steph, I was just trying to figure out who I was going to put in and how we are going to play," Knicks coach Isiah Thomas said. "We will bounce back. We lost to a good team, a very good team. We have a little work ahead of us in terms of patching the group up and getting ready to play again. We lost the basketball game but we are not caving because we lost."

Marbury admitted that the lopsided nature of the game caused him to sit after his injury.

"I'm fine. I just had a stinger, I'm fine," Marbury said. "I could have came back in."

Eddy Curry netted 22 points for the Knicks (30-37), who are one-half game behind New Jersey (31-37), Orlando (31-37) and Indiana (30-36) for the final two playoff spots in the East.

"We definitely lost to a better team, but I thought if we could have played just a little bit better (we could have won)," Thomas said. "You have to give them credit because they probably have something to do with us not playing well. But I thought we missed some easy baskets, some layups early in the game.

"I thought we missed some free throws that could have kept us close and could have kept the game a little tighter."

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