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Howard, Nowitzki help Mavericks continue mastery of Rockets

Dec 16, 2007 - 5:43 AM HOUSTON (Ticker) -- The Dallas Mavericks want to make thing one clear to the Houston Rockets and the rest of the league: They don't rely soley on reigning league MVP Dirk Nowitzki.

Josh Howard scored 14 of his 23 points in the first half and Nowitzki added 20 as the Mavericks posted a 96-83 victory over the Rockets on Saturday.

Jerry Stackhouse scored just 17 points off the bench for the Mavericks, who had five players score in double figures and shot 50 percent (36-of-71) from the floor.

Nowitzki had been struggling of late, scoring just 20 points in his previous two contests. But the Mavericks managed to beat the Rockets for the 10th time in the last 11 meetings thanks to a great supporting cast.

"That's what we need - four, five, six guys that can get us double figures," Dallas coach Avery Johnson said. "It's not Dirk and the Mavericks."

"I think that's what we've been doing the last couple of years," Nowitzki said of the one-man show label. "We got to the Finals two years ago. But this league is too good to win with one or two guys."

"I just wanted to get guys involved, get Dirk off to a good start," said Dallas point guard Devin Harris, who went scoreless in the first half but netted 12 in the third quarter. "It makes it so much easier when the playoffs come around that four or five guys can score."

The Mavericks beat the Rockets in their two earlier meetings this season. They notched a 107-98 win on November 5 in Dallas and also erased a 14-point deficit to post a 100-94 victory on November 21 in Houston.

Dallas held a slim 54-53 lead with 4:33 left in the third and broke open the game with a 25-12 run to take a 79-65 lead on a jumper by Jason Terry with 8:11 to go in the fourth.

"It's a division game, a conference game," Stackhouse said. "It's become somewhat of a rivalry. The games are always (close), and it's whoever hits a run at the right time."

"It is a rivalry," said Terry, who added 10 points. "It's been that way since I've been a Maverick. It wasn't easy all night long."

Houston, which held a 41-40 lead at halftime, trailed by double digits the rest of the way.

A big reason the Rockets were unable to stay competitive were the struggles of Tracy McGrady, who suffered a sprained ankle on Monday. He scored just 12 points on 5-of-18 shooting in this one and also aggravated a knee injury in the third quarter.

"That's a great ball club over there," McGrady said. "They know what it takes to turn it up another notch. That's what they did in the third quarter. I've had a knee problem for two weeks. Tonight I banged it, and it's just one of those things."

Yao Ming scored 28 points and grabbed 14 rebounds for the Rockets, who shot just 40 percent (31-of-76) from the floor and have lost five of eight.

"They fronted me and double-teamed," Yao said. "We should not be surprised by that. When they front me, we should have an advantage. Our defense is not good enough. Whether it's skill or following the game plan, I think it's how much you want (to play) defense."

"I don't think we played with the energy we needed," Rockets coach Rick Adelman said. "They really got rolling shooting the ball and their main people, once they get it going, it's really hard to stop them. We couldn't make a shot. We missed layups. The only one who was consistent all night was Yao."

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