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Nowitzki, Howard pace Mavericks past Hawks

Mar 25, 2007 - 9:02 PM ATLANTA (Ticker) -- Dirk Nowitzki and Josh Howard helped the Dallas Mavericks remain perfect on their road trip.

Nowitzki and Howard scored 28 points apiece to pace the red-hot Mavericks to a 104-97 triumph over the Atlanta Hawks.

It was the sixth consecutive victory for Dallas, which improved to 5-0 on a six-game road trip. The Mavericks wrap up the trek Tuesday against the New Orleans Hornets.

With the win, Dallas (58-11) climbed 5 1/2 games ahead of the Phoenix Suns (52-16) for the best overall record in the Western Conference. Phoenix visits Sacramento on Sunday afternoon.

In spite of the victory, Mavericks coach Avery Johnson still feels his team has work to do heading into next month's playoffs.

"We have a pretty good rotation when we're healthy," Johnson said. "But we're still not where we need to be. If we were to start the playoffs tomorrow, I would be really concerned."

Howard agreed that Dallas' overall performance left something to be desired.

"We need to work harder and not have the defensive lapses we had today," he said. "It was reassuring to come back after the Hawks took the lead. But we had them up by 20 and by 14 at the half, so it's kind of disappointing to let them back in it."

Dallas' leading scorer and rebounder, Nowitzki shot 10-of-17 from the floor and drilled a key 3-pointer with five minutes remaining to give the Mavs an 89-84 advantage.

Howard got off to an outstanding start, making his first five shots and his first four free throws en route to 16 points in the first quarter. The 6-7 swingman finished 9-of-14 from the floor, including 3-of-3 from the arc.

Jason Terry scored 15 of his 27 points in the fourth quarter for the Mavericks, who are just two wins shy from matching last season's franchise record for wins in a single campaign. Dallas shot 53 percent (36-of-68) from the floor and poured in 39 points in the opening quarter.

The Hawks trailed by as many as 23 points in the second quarter and faced a 58-44 halftime deficit. But Atlanta rallied in the third quarter and took a 79-77 lead with 8:24 remaining on Josh Childress' dunk.

Terry forged a 79-79 tie with a jumper on the ensuing possession and Howard gave Dallas the lead for good with 7:44 left, drilling a pair of free throws to make it 81-79.

Marvin Williams made two free throws to pull Atlanta within 86-84 with 5:26 to go, but Nowitzki buried a 3-pointer on the following possession to give Dallas breathing room.

"We came out at the beginning of the game and built a good lead," Johnson said. "I told my guys I really appreciate the way they came out and played hard."

Childress and Josh Smith each scored 21 points to pace Atlanta, which has lost five of its last six games. The Hawks shot just 41 percent (28-of-68) to drop their fourth consecutive meeting with the Mavs.

"(The Mavericks) are an excellent basketball team," Atlanta coach Mike Woodson said. "They're well-coached. You can't spot a team like that 23 points and think that you're going to win."

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