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Nowitzki leads Mavericks past lowly Knicks

Dec 11, 2007 - 4:26 AM NEW YORK (Ticker) -- Dirk Nowitzki heard more cheers than any members of the New York Knicks and then put on a show in front of another disgruntled crowd.

Nowitzki scored a season-high 36 points to lead the Dallas Mavericks to a 99-89 victory over the Knicks on Monday night at Madison Square Garden.

Josh Howard added 22 points in his first game after Saturday's career-high 47-point performance against Utah.

Dallas shot 54 percent (36-of-67) and defeated the Knicks for the 11th time in 12 meetings after surviving a comeback attempt that reduced a 23-point lead to 90-83 with just over four minutes remaining following a basket by Zach Randolph.

"We had a big enough lead and we should have kept it," Dallas coach Avery Johnson said. "The last two minutes of the third quarter and (first) two minutes of the fourth was absolutely pathetic and the guys who were in there let the whole team down. We can't afford to do that."

"It was tough, that was on the defensive (end)," Howard said. "Dirk's our leader. He's going to go out and score the ball like he did that. It's good to see him do that." That was the closest the Mavericks came to blowing it. On their next possession, Jason Terry made a 16-footer and Howard followed with a layup that inadvertently knocked Eddy Curry out of the contest when Howard's hand hit Curry in the face.

New York dropped its third in a row and fell to 6-14 through 20 games for the second time in three years. Of its' 14 losses, 10 have been by double digits, including the last four and this one featured coach Isiah Thomas confronting a fan in the second half and blaming the booing for the team's struggles.

"I wanted to make sure our team stayed focused," Thomas said trying to downplay it. "The fans are great. We love them and we're glad they're here."

The loudest cheers during pregame introductions were for Nowitzki, who came into the contest averaging 21.1 points per game. He equaled his average by driving around Curry for an easy layup on Dallas' first possession of the second half and then surpassed it with another jumper that put Dallas up by 17 before hearing some cheers after hitting a 3-pointer.

Nowitzki turned in his fourth 30-point performance of the season and had it with 6:10 remaining after converting a three-point play. He continued to hear more cheers after hitting another 3-pointer with 4:25 remaining in the quarter.

"He came out with the type of game that we wanted him to have tonight," Johnson said. "We thought playing in the Garden and we wanted him to come out ready to establish himself and he got the ball early. He made some decisive moves and he was real sure about what he was doing."

"I was able to find a rhythm really quick," Nowitzki said. "In the last couple of weeks, my jumper didn't really feel great. I feel great and I had a lot of lot of really good looks. I pretty much was in attack mode all night long."

Nowitzki finished 14-of-23 from the floor and added seven rebounds and four assists. It was his second 30-point game in three games.

"Tonight he was feeling it and we wanted to keep feeding him," Terry said.

The latest rounds of loud "Fire Isiah" chants started as Nowitzki was making a pair of foul shots for a 60-40 edge with 8:55 remaining and the booing continued until the Knicks attempted to rally.

"It comes in slow stages," Thomas said. "I thought we finally got some tempo, some pace and some ball movement. We were able to play the style, the tempo and the pace we like to play at."

Nowitzki approached his scoring average in 18 first-half minutes as he scored 19 points on 8-of-12 shooting. The 7-footer scored 15 points in the opening quarter when Dallas shot 63 percent and took a 28-19 lead.

Dallas did not need Nowitzki to hold its lead as he sat for the first five-plus minutes of the second and watched his teammates open a double-digit lead. The Mavericks never relinquished their double-digit lead and grabbed a 49-36 edge at halftime.

The Knicks played without Stephon Marbury, who sat out due to personal reasons following the death of his father on December 2. Marbury's teammates were booed during introductions and heard louder boos at the end of a first half in which they shot an awful 29 percent (12-of-41).

Their latest loss came just two days after owner Jim Dolan met with Thomas and appeared no closer to firing him. It also came hours after the Anucha Browne Sanders case was settled.

Randolph sparked New York's comeback attempt with 17 of his 24 points in the fourth. Jamal Crawford added 19 but was 6-of-22 from the floor while Curry finished with six points on 3-of-13 shooting before needing three stitches on his lacerated lower lip.

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