Mavs Blow Out Jazz for Final Playoff Berth

Mavs secure 9th consecutive playoff appearance with 130-101 win

Josh Howard looked more like he had been in a prize fight than a basketball game with the bloody nose and swollen left eye. That irony shouldn't be lost on the Dallas Mavericks.

Howard overcame being popped hard in the face in the first quarter to score 13 points with a career-high seven steals and the Mavericks finally clinched the final playoff spot in the hard-fought Western Conference, beating the Utah Jazz 130-101 on Wednesday night.

"He looked pretty busted up," said Dirk Nowitzki, whose 31 points included a game-clinching surge in the third quarter.

With four games left, Dallas matched the Jazz at 47-31 for seventh place and within a game of New Orleans, which lost at home to Phoenix. The Suns were eliminated from playoff contention by the Mavs' victory.

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With its spot in the playoffs secure, Dallas can now work on trying to avoid a first-round series in Los Angeles against Kobe Bryant and the Lakers (62-16), who have won all three meetings against Dallas this season.

The Mavericks play their next two games against New Orleans, on Friday night at home before their final road game Sunday.

"It's a playoff-type atmosphere already," Nowitzki said.

New Orleans, which eliminated the Mavs in five games in the first round of the playoffs last year, has won the first two games in the season series.

Since a 107-102 loss at 22-win Memphis on Friday night, the Mavericks have scored more than 125 points in consecutive games for the first time since April 2004. They won 140-116 Sunday against Phoenix.

"As I have been saying, I just feel like we have been getting better," coach Rick Carlisle said.

"Knowing the importance of each game and the sense of urgency, we treat every game like it's a Game 7 playoff game," said Jason Terry, who added 21 points off the bench. "We go out there and fight and scrap and do whatever it takes."

Utah was within 73-64 midway through the third quarter when Deron Williams, who led the Jazz with 17 points and 12 assists, made a free throw to convert a three-point play.

Nowitzki then scored 12 consecutive points for Dallas, and 15 of its last 18 in the quarter to push the lead to 19.

"They beat us all night long. They were so much quicker. We looked like we'd been on the road for 10 months," Jazz coach Jerry Sloan said. "They deserved to win because we didn't make it a contest for them."

Howard, who missed 12 of the previous 15 games with a sore left ankle, got knocked in the face attempting a shot late in the first quarter. He returned in the second, and left again early in the second half before returning again.

"It kept bleeding. I was playing with one eye. But I was able to see the ball to steal it," said Howard, who was 3-for-11 from the field. "As long as my eyeball wasn't falling out or I was half dead, I was going to come back out there."

Copyright AP - Associated Press
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