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Nowitzki, Howard carry Mavericks over Raptors

Dec 18, 2008 - 4:32 AM TORONTO (Ticker) -- Since the Dallas Mavericks began the season in a miserable slump, Dirk Nowitzki has single-handedly carried them back to respectability.

The veteran All-Star continued his hot play on Wednesday, posting 27 points and 10 boards to lead the Mavericks to a come-from-behind, 96-86 victory over the Toronto Raptors.

Nowitzki came into the game as the league's leading scorer in the month of December, averaging nearly 32.0 points per contest to lead the Mavs back from a 2-7 start to the campaign. A few nights ago, he needed 46 points just to hold off the lowly Oklahoma City Thunder.

"I don't know how he's not mentioned as an MVP candidate, but I'll start the campaign right here," Mavs guard Jason Terry said. "He makes his teammates better and that's what an MVP does."

Against Toronto, however, he got a much-needed boost from an injured teammate.

Josh Howard, in his second game back since returning from a sprained ankle, scored 20 points and keyed a crucial third-quarter run that gave Dallas the lead for good. Howard scored nine points in the first four minutes of the second half, kicking things off with a 3-pointer as the Mavs staged a 14-6 run.

"We knew they were going to get off to a good start but our defense picked up in the second quarter and we started to make shots and put some doubt in their mind," Terry said. "It's a big difference having Josh Howard out there. He's an All-Star who creates havoc on the defense."

His 16-footer at the 7:58 mark of the quarter gave the Mavericks their first lead since the opening quarter. Nowitzki knocked down three buckets in the final 2 1/2 minutes of the frame - including one from the arc - to put his team in control. The former league MVP helped finish the Raptors off down the stretch, scoring eight points in the fourth as Dallas won for the seventh time in nine games.

"Big time shots - every time we need him, he gives it to us, night in and night out," Howard said of Nowitzki.

The Mavericks overcame a sluggish start, falling behind by 12 after the first quarter. But they owned every period thereafter. Toronto extended its lead to as many as 13 in the second quarter, but Dallas closed the frame with an 8-0 spurt. With the lead down to 10 and 58 seconds on the clock, Bosh misfired on a long-range attempt. Terry grabbed the defensive board, walked the ball up the court and fired a 3-pointer to cut the deficit to single digits.

"In this, if you make your run, you've got to keep your foot on the pedal and keep it going," Nowitzki said. "It was good to have Josh back and Jason Terry has been on fire the last couple of weeks and that helped us in the second half."

Terry had a hot hand off the bench for the Mavericks, scoring 27 points on 10-of-16 shooting - including 4-of-9 on 3-point attempts.

Dallas took advantage of an uncharacteristically slow night for All-Star forward Bosh, who connected on just 6-of-20 from the floor. Needless to say, the Raptors struggled to find any offensive rhythm in lieu of Bosh's typical production.

Jermaine O'Neal collected 19 points, seven boards and three blocks for the Raptors, who turned the ball over only six times and committed just 14 fouls. Still, after a 14-of-18 start from the field, they managed to hit just 22 of their last 66 shots.