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Nowitzki, Mavericks trounce Pistons

Jan 10, 2008 - 6:35 AM DALLAS (Ticker) -- If the Dallas Mavericks were looking to make a statement on Wednesday night, it came across loud and clear.

Dirk Nowitzki scored 23 points and grabbed nine rebounds to lead the Mavericks to a 102-86 victory over the Eastern Conference powerhouse Detroit Pistons.

Devin Harris scored 19 points and Jason Terry and Jerry Stackhouse chipped in 15 apiece for Dallas, which shot 57 percent (42-of-72) from the field en route to its fifth straight win.

"It's still January so it's early, but it was a great test and I think we responded well," Nowitzki said. "We're trying to get more consistent with what we're doing. We know we can play well, but I think we're trying to play well for a longer period of time.

"We had a great effort against Golden State (last week) and then had a little letdown against Miami here. So, I just think we've got to work on our consistency, and we should be a pretty tough team to beat."

After blitzing through the NBA last season and finishing with a league-best 67 wins in the regular season, the Mavericks were quickly brushed aside in the first round of the playoffs by the eighth-seeded Warriors.

This season has brought a new focus for Dallas, which appeared to be on cruise control for much of the first two months of the season before waking up of late. Nowitzki and company have won 10 of their last 12 games, including triumphs over New Orleans, Phoenix, Orlando, Golden State and Houston.

"You want to play those teams well," Harris said. "Obviously, those are the ones that will come in and challenge us, and especially at home you want to protect your home court against anybody. Against the better teams, we've stepped up our game a little bit more and taken it to them."

With the Pistons in town looking to prove themselves against the Western Conference's elite, the Mavericks wasted little time proving they are a team with which to be reckoned.

"It's good to beat a great team that's won a championship and beat them handily like we did, but at the end of the day nothing that happened tonight would have an effect if we saw that team in June, other than the fact that we won the game," Stackhouse said.

"They're obviously going to be playing extremely well if they made it that far and we're going to be playing extremely well if we make it that far. So, it feels good for the night, and we've got to get ready for a nice little three-game road trip and, hopefully, just continue to build these wins, not so much talking about streaks, but just to play consistently and to play well."

Nowitzki, who has picked up his scoring in the past 12 games by leading the club in scoring nine times, scored 11 points in the first eight minutes of the opening quarter as Dallas opened up a 32-20 lead after the first quarter.

"It doesn't matter who leads the team," Nowitzki said. "We want to get the job done collectively. I've been in a good rhythm shooting-wise. When the shot's there, I'm going to take it with confidence.

"If it's not, I'm going to penetrate and move it or make a strong move and make somebody else better. It's about finding a good mix for me of when to shoot and when to pass and just still try to be aggressive and play my game."

"It's disappointing because we know this is a first quarter team, and we let them come out and get in a comfort zone early and let them shoot where they wanted to shoot at, where they don't miss that much," said Chauncey Billups. "On the other end, we couldn't score it in the paint enough to get to the free-throw line, and those are the kind of things you've got to use in a game like this."

Detroit, which dropped an emotional 92-85 decision to the Boston Celtics in its last game and had yet to lose two in a row this season, pulled back into it in the second quarter with a 17-8 run to end the period and make the score 48-43 in favor of the Mavericks at the break.

Dallas opened the third outscoring Detroit, 9-4, in the first 3:27 of the quarter to take a 57-47 lead. Harris scored five points and Nowitzki added the other four during the spurt.

"We came out with a lot of focus," Stackhouse said. "We had a good carryover from practice and had a good carryover from the first half.

Detroit answered with a basket from Billups and two free throws from Tayshaun Prince to cut the deficit to 57-51 with 6:24 left in the third. But the Mavericks put their foot back on the gas and led 79-66 at the end of three as Nowitzki scored 12 points in the quarter.

"They are one of the top teams in basketball," Mavericks coach Avery Johnson said. "When we come out and are competitive against them, I think it gives you confidence. I don't think it necessarily surprised us. We should have a certain type of confidence that, when we play our style of basketball, when we're tough-minded and physical, we can play with a lot of teams.

"This team (Detroit) is one that you're going to hear a lot from before the season is over. I know there's one team that has a better record than them, but this team is battle-tested, and when you get a battle-tested team that's been to the (Eastern Conference) Finals five straight years or whatever it's been and won a championship, I don't think anyone wants to see them come playoff time."

The Pistons, who never threatened in the final quarter, were led by Richard Hamilton's 18 points and 16 from Billups. Detroit shot just 40 percent (34-of-84) in the setback.

"In the first quarter, we did come out without intensity, but they hit some big shots, hit some threes, shot the heck out of the ball and pretty much no more to it than that," Pistons forward Rasheed Wallace said. "We had it close going into halftime and they came back out shooting that stuff again, but that's how it flows some nights. Some nights you're hot like fire, and then other nights you're cold as ice."