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Strong defense propels Mavericks to sixth straight win

Jan 12, 2008 - 7:26 AM By Paul Lowenberg PA SportsTicker Contributing Writer

SEATTLE (Ticker) -- The Dallas Mavericks' defense was key to their franchise-best 67-win campaign last season. They appear to be rounding back into form.

Dirk Nowitzki scored 20 points and Josh Howard added 18 and 10 rebounds as the Mavericks rolled to a 90-70 victory over the Seattle SuperSonics for their season-high sixth consecutive win on Friday.

Dallas allowed 92.8 points per game last season, good for the fourth-best defensive average in the league last season. After a slow start to the season, the Mavericks have been tough to score against lately, going 13-3 over their last 16 games, holding 13 of their opponents in that time under 100 points.

"I think we have really turned our defense around," Nowitzki said. "In November and December, we lost a lot of games because we weren't as sharp defensively. That's how we won almost seventy games last year was being a decent defensive team and getting big shots when we had to."

Both teams struggled in the first half, which wound up with Dallas leading 44-35 at intermission.

Seattle managed just 16 points in the opening quarter on 27 percent shooting, while Dallas scored just 18 points. However, Howard put the Mavericks ahead to stay, 14-12, when he scored on a tip-in with 1:36 remaining in the first quarter.

"We weren't very good offensively, especially early in the game," Mavericks coach Avery Johnson said. "We were still able to grab the lead at the end of the first quarter, which was really encouraging since we started off about 1-for-11."

After Wally Szczerbiak hit a 3-pointer to cut Dallas' lead to 28-27 with 6:20 left in the half, the Mavericks went on a 16-8 run to build their halftime advantage, spurred by 14 points by Nowitzki and 12 by Howard.

Howard was coming off his worst performance of the season, a 10-point outing in the Mavericks 102-86 victory over the Detroit Pistons on Wednesday.

The 70 points represented a season low for points scored in a game for the Sonics and points allowed for the Mavericks.

"Offensively, we just weren't very good," Sonics coach P.J. Carlesimo said. "But I thought our effort, particularly on the defensive end, was night and day from the last three games."

Carlesimo was able to point out one big difference between his team, which had just come off a 0-4 Eastern road trip, and the powerful Mavericks.

"What separates them is they play both ends of the floor," he said. "They didn't have a real good offensive night, but they found a way to win with their defense."

For Seattle, it was five fewer than the 75 it scored on December 15 while Dallas bettered the 74 points it allowed vs. the Cleveland Cavaliers to open the season on October 31.

The Mavericks have won 11 straight against the struggling Sonics, who lost their sixth game in a row. Szczerbiak led Seattle with 17 points.

Kevin Durant, who has won each of the NBA Rookie of the Month awards handed out this season, had 15 points but was just 4-for-13 from the field.