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Nowitzki, Mavericks overtake Suns in fourth

Apr 7, 2008 - 5:12 AM PHOENIX (Ticker) -- The Dallas Mavericks finally looked like a playoff team on Sunday afternoon.

Dirk Nowitzki had 32 points and 12 rebounds and Josh Howard added 24 and nine as the Mavericks punished the Phoenix Suns in the fourth quarter en route to an inspiring 105-98 victory at US Airways Center.

Reserve Brandon Bass provided all the offense off the bench with 19 points for Dallas, which finished the game on a 27-7 run.

Maligned for their inability to close out games - especially against quality teams - the Mavericks authored a remarkable fourth-quarter turnaround fueled by tough defense.

"We took the ball to the basket, unlike the third quarter. We moved the ball on offense, unlike the third quarter, and it all clicked for us," Dallas coach Avery Johnson said. "We haven't been able to win these types of games, so it was good that it finally happened."

As a result, Dallas (48-29) is two games ahead of the Denver Nuggets (46-31) and Golden State Warriors (46-31) for the final playoff spot in the West.

"We are not out of it. We are still trying to work our way up," Howard said. "The guys understand that and we needed a win, I don't know if it is desperation we just need wins."

The Mavericks, who are just 13-11 since acquiring star point guard Jason Kidd from the New Jersey Nets, picked up just their second win in 13 games against teams with a winning record during that span.

Trailing by 11 points after three quarters, Dallas held Phoenix scoreless just under eight minutes in the fourth quarter while running off 16 straight points, capped by Erick Dampier's putback dunk to make it 94-91 with 4:10 left in the game.

"The fourth quarter we couldn't make a basket. Credit them for good defense, us bad offense, whatever, it resulted in 12 straight missed shots and three turnovers," Suns coach Mike D'Antoni said. "For what ever reasons the lights went out, and we couldn't get it back on."

The Mavericks didn't let up as Nowitzki made his presence felt in the final minutes, nailing an awkward runner to make it 102-96 with 32.2 ticks left and adding his trademark sneer to signal the effective end of the game.

"We really didn't have a lot of things going right there, and I saw the shot clock and still had enough time to go off the dribble and not just heave one up," Nowitzki said. "As I drove, I was stumbling but was able to gather myself right at the end. There was definitely a little luck right there."

Amare Stoudemire scored 31 points and Shaquille O'Neal added 13 and 13 rebounds for the Suns (51-26), who are 3 1/2 games back of the conference-leading New Orleans Hornets (54-22) and two behind the Los Angeles Lakers (53-24) for the top spot in the Pacific Division.

"This was frustrating because we had control the whole game," Stoudemire said. "We weren't being aggressive late, and they were just the opposite. This was a game we needed, but it was probably more important for them than us."