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Nowitzki, Mavericks clinch home-court advantage in playoffs

Apr 10, 2007 - 6:03 AM DALLAS (Ticker) -- Dirk Nowitzki and the Dallas Mavericks are assured to be on their home floor throughout the playoffs. The Los Angeles Clippers just want to get in the postseason.

Nowitzki scored 26 points and Jerry Stackhouse added 18 off the bench as the Mavericks clinched the top spot in the Western Conference with a 96-86 victory over the Clippers.

After missing Saturday's game with an ankle injury, Josh Howard returned to score 16 points for Dallas (64-13), which moved six games ahead of second-place Phoenix (58-19) with five contests left to clinch home-court advantage.

"Nothing is guaranteed in this league," Stackhouse said. "Everyone we play from here on out will be fighting and clawing to get into the playoffs or solidify their position in the playoffs. It's good to get the home-court advantage but the hard part is maintaining it. You lose one game (in a series), and it's gone, and you've got to fight to get it back in the playoffs."

But Mavericks coach Avery Johnson is going to reward some of his players for their accomplishment.

"Stackhouse and Dirk will not be on this next trip," Johnson said. "I told them if I see them on the plane, I'll fine them. We have another plan for Friday and we'll keep moving from there.

"We still want to play because we don't want to be lethargic going into the playoffs. We still want to win the rest of the games no matter who's in uniform. We won without Dirk before."

Los Angeles (37-39) fell into a virtual tie with Golden State (38-40), and the teams are 1 1/2 games ahead of the New Orleans Hornets (36-41) for the eighth and final spot in the West.

If the Clippers do secure the eighth seed, they would meet the Mavericks in the first round.

"Not even a consideration (playing Dallas)," Los Angeles coach Mike Dunleavy said. "We tried everything we could do and we did it well some of the time but we didn't do it enough.

"Defensively, I thought in the first half we did a great job on Nowitzki, but in the second half we didn't do a good job on him. But he got away from us when (Chris Kaman) was out of the game and then we didn't get good enough help on him at times."

Nowitzki shot 10-of-18 from the field and Stackhouse was 5-of-12, including 2-of-2 from the arc for the Mavericks, who shot 50 percent (33-of-66) from the field and were 5-of-8 on 3-pointers.

"I thought we had some good looks off the screen-and-roll," Nowitzki said. "I think the good thing is, we can mix it up with the ball handlers. Devean (George) and Jason (Terry) are so different as players. We mix it up and they both make a lot of stuff happen with their aggressiveness."

Dallas center Erick Dampier scored two points in three minutes before leaving with a strained right shoulder with 8:24 left in the first quarter.

Corey Maggette scored 24 points and Elton Brand added 20 for the Clippers, who shot 47 percent (34-of-72) and committed 15 turnovers.

"It definitely hurt not having Tim (Thomas), and we're waiting for Sam (Cassell) to get healthy so we can have our full complement," Brand said. "But they've got guys like Stackhouse and they brought (Devin) Harris off the bench. They just keep coming with firepower off that bench."

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