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Nowitzki leads balanced effort as Mavericks crush Pacers

Mar 15, 2008 - 5:26 AM DALLAS (Ticker) -- Lately, the Dallas Mavericks appear to enjoy feasting on the Eastern Conference.

Dirk Nowitzki scored 21 points and Josh Howard added 18 to lead a balanced effort for the Mavericks en route to a 116-97 victory over the Indiana Pacers on Friday.

Jerry Stackhouse and Tyronn Lue each scored 14 points for the Mavericks, who placed six players in double figures in scoring.

Dallas has recorded four consecutive blowout victories - defeating New Jersey, New York, Charlotte and Indiana in succession by an average of 23.3 points - after three consecutive losses to playoff-contending teams in the Western Conference.

"We've been concentrating on our style of ball," Howard said. "We've been doing a real good job of that these last four games. We've just got to worry about us."

"We've been holding teams under 100 points and we're coming out and taking care of business," Mavericks guard Jason Kidd said. "Teams aren't shooting extremely well (against us) right now, so we're throwing something out on the defensive end. That's helping our offense."

Even with their four-game winning streak, the Mavericks can't seem to make up any ground in the Western Conference standings as Southwest Division rival Houston won its 21st straight contest on Friday, 89-80, against Charlotte. Dallas (43-23) remains 2 1/2 games behind the Rockets (45-20).

"That's just the West," said Kidd, who had nine points, 12 assists and seven rebounds. "One team has won 21 games in a row. They went from 10 to first, so if that's what it takes, I guess that's what we'll have to do. Unfortunately, I don't think there's 21 games left.

"That's amazing on their part, they're playing extremely well, but I think this is where you want to get better. ... We need everybody playing their best basketball from here on out because our schedule doesn't get any easier coming up."

The Mavericks erased any doubt in this contest midway through the first quarter.

Leading, 8-6, Stackhouse hit a shot from the arc to spark a 23-7 run which left Dallas in front, 31-13, after back-to-back 3-pointers from Jason Terry.

"During this homestand, except for the one game (March 6 loss to Houston), I think we have gotten off to a pretty good start," Kidd said. "Our defense has been a big factor in us getting off to a good start."

While Indiana scored the final two baskets of the opening quarter, it could get no closer than 11 points the rest of the way.

"We knew that the last couple of games, the Mavericks have played well in the first quarter and kind of blitzed teams, so we were just trying to stay with them," Indiana forward Troy Murphy said. "Their defense is much-improved. They really push the ball with Jason Kidd. He finds open guys. They're really a tough team."

After Jeff Foster's runner trimmed the lead to 40-29 midway through the second quarter, Nowitzki hit four shots over the remainder of the half, which was capped off by Stackhouse's 17-foot jumper as time expired to take a 62-46 halftime lead.

Indiana scored the first four points of the third quarter to cut the deficit to 62-50 on two free throws from Mike Dunleavy only to have Dallas score the next nine points to build the lead back up to 71-50.

The Pacers made one final push in the final quarter, cutting the deficit to 92-78 on a shot from Ike Diogu with 7:48 remaining. However, Nowitzki nailed a 3-pointer and a pair of free throws to begin a 21-14 push that stretched the lead to 21 points at 113-92.

"Our goal was to get it under 10 by the fourth quarter," Murphy said. "We were able to get it to 11 but then they ballooned it back up to 20 at different times, and it was just too much for us to overcome."

Flip Murray scored 22 points to lead the Pacers, who have lost four of their last five contests.

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