Saturday, April 5, 2008

Chance to rise in desert

PHOENIX – Same song, different verse. The Mavericks left the City of Angels humming a tune all too familiar to fans of the blue, silver and white (and sometimes green) for the last couple months.

The opportunity to beat the Lakers on their home court was there Friday night, but once again the Mavs didn’t do the little things down the stretch. A slow defensive rotation here, a botched offensive possession there equaled another gut-wrenching setback to a Western Conference contender.

Now is not the time to wallow in the past. Not with what’s at stake. The Mavs have to get right back on the horse for a Sunday matinee performance at US Airways Center. Steve Nash, Shaquille O’Neal and the rest of the Phoenix Suns aren’t in the mood to pity.

“I just like to see our team fight,” Avery Johnson said. “I hope it can get to be a real consistent deal, but I like the determination and the fight in our team.”

The Mavs and Suns have split two games this season going into the third and final game in the series. This is the first clash between Nash and Kidd since blockbuster trades reshaped both franchises.

The two All-NBA point guards were once teammates in Phoenix (Nash backed up Kidd from 1996-98) and share a star-crossed history in Dallas. Neither, however, is worried about past dramas. It’s about the present.

“We understand what position we’re in,” Kidd said.

Read the rest of the story and get Suns preview at

Mavs can't close out Lakers

LOS ANGELES – Avery Johnson saw desperation in the eyes of Lakers when they visited American Airlines Center 2 ½ weeks ago. The Mavericks coach wanted his team to return the favor Friday night.

A balanced attack and smothering run to open up the second quarter put Dallas in position to upend the Pacific Division leaders – and possible first-round opponent – at Staples Center. The Mavs (47-29) had the lead going into the final 90 seconds, but couldn’t hold it, falling 112-108 in the opener of a challenging two-game trip.

Seventh-place Dallas leaves the cool breezes of Southern California for the scorching desert and Sunday afternoon’s date with Phoenix with slim leads over Denver (half game) and Golden State (one game) in the race for the last two playoff spots in the Western Conference. The Lakers punched a postseason ticket for the 55th time in the 60-year history of the franchise.

Taking another Johnson challenge to heart – play your game as if Dirk Nowitzki wasn’t there – the Mavs shared the ball and everyone attacked, including Nowitzki. The residue of Nowitzki’s four-game absence was more players taking responsibility. All five starters finished in double figures, led by Nowitzki’s 27, Jason Terry’s 25 and Josh Howard’s 23.

The Mavs played with the lead for most of the wildly-entertaining game, often up by double figures. Laker runs were often met with key 3-pointer (see: Jason Kidd, Terry or Nowitzki) or a steal leading to an easy fastbreak chance. Until the fourth quarter.

The Mavs weren’t done in by Kobe Bryant, though No. 24 milked the line in the fourth quarter and finished with 25 points. (He came into the game averaging better than 40 against the Mavs this season.) Instead, the combined 56 points from Lamar Odom and Pau Gasol hurt.

Should they meet again in a couple weeks, the series should provide its share of nail-biters. There wasn’t much separation between the two teams this season, with the four games decided by 17 points. The Mavs scored a seven-point win, while LA had a margins of four (overtime), two and four.

Friday, April 4, 2008

Mavs up 10 in LA, four in double figures

A balanced attack and smothering run to open up the second quarter left the Mavs up 64-54 on the Lakers at the half here in LA. Josh Howard and Jason Terry led the way with 13 points, with Dirk Nowitzki dropping 12 and Jason Kidd another 10. Erick Dampier even had nine points and nine boards.

The Mavs seized control with a 16-2 to open the second period to take a 47-33 lead. The teams were tied at 31 after the first. Kobe Bryant opened the game with two 3-pointers, but scored just four more points in the half.

Dallas shot 57 percent for the half and won the rebound battle 22-17.

Malik Allen out with sore back

Malik Allen retreated to the locker room with lower back tightness and will not return in the second half.

He played four minutes and has one rebound. Devean George has picked up those backup power forward minutes.

The Kobe Rules

One of Kobe Bryant’s former teammates isn’t intimated by the NBA’s second-leading scorer.

“I’ve guarded him my whole career,” Eddie Jones said. “I’m not all that worried. I’m just trying to contest his shots. With the way the rules are set up, all you can possibly try to do is get the ball out of his hands.”

The Mavs aren’t backing down from the Lakers, either. A victory tonight knots the season series at 2-2.

“We feel we can play with anybody on the road or at home,” Dirk Nowitzki said. “We can match up. We just have to find a way to contain Kobe.”

Weathered the storm without Dirk

The sun never seems to stop shining here in SoCal. Storm clouds are about as foreign as fried chicken joints in health-conscious Santa Monica. (Not that you can’t find them in other parts of LA. We feasted at Roscoe’s House of Chicken’ n Waffles in Hollywood last night.)

The skies were pretty murky playing four games without Dirk Nowitzki. The MVP is back. We could be seeing the next one in a few hours.

“We weathered one storm and another is coming tonight in the form of the Lakers and Kobe Bryant,” Avery Johnson said with a smile. “That’s the one thing about storms, they keep coming. Yesterday was pretty sunny because, guess what, we didn’t have a game.”

The tag-team approach on Bryant starts with Josh Howard and continues with Eddie Jones, Devean George, Jason Kidd and maybe some Antoine Wright. Johnson doesn’t want Howard to spend too much time on Kobe because it tends to wear him out on the other end.

The offense ran through Howard with Nowitzki out and likely won’t change as long as Nowitzki is less than 100 percent.

Nowitzki playing through the pain

Dirk Nowitzki won’t be right physically this season. He knows it. Avery Johnson knows it. But that’s not going to keep the reigning MVP off the floor.

“It won’t be good for a while, but it doesn’t matter at this point,” Nowitzki said today after shootaround. “Like I said the other day, if this were November there’s no way I’m playing right now. It’s not November and like last year we’re not 20 games up on the 2 spot. I just have to play through some stuff.”

Nowitzki is playing with a custom-made brace built into his left sneaker to stabilize the ankle. He’s compensating by keeping it simple out there. As he said, let the other guys do the running and take spot-up shots when open. The adrenalin rush of just playing is also helping with the pain.

Knowing his limitations right now is a sign of basketball smarts.

“Offensively, I think I can predict more what I can do,” he said. “Defensively, you’re always reacting. A guy might be driving and you might have to go up for a block, so defensively it’s kind of hard to just be out there and not do anything.

“Offensively, if I don’t really feel like going to the basket, I can always dribble hand-off or swing it to Josh or move it or set a pick-and-roll because my movement is not quite there yet.”

Nowitzki had another afternoon of treatment ahead to deal with the soreness. There’s only so much that can be done less than two weeks from suffering the injury.

“I don’t know if it’s going to be significantly improved as the season wears on,” Johnson said. “It may just stay where it is. The only thing that can help this particular injury is total rest and he’s not going to get that right now.”

Speaking of Eddie Jones…

Eddie Jones is coming his best outing in nearly three months – a 12-point showing in the Golden State romp. Included was an alley-oop slam from Josh Howard in the third quarter.

“They’re telling me to shoot the ball if I’m open,” Jones said. “I just bring whatever. I enjoy coming off the bench and guys look for me, and first and foremost I try to rebound and play defense. If the shots come, they come. If they don’t, they don’t.”

The above-the-rim highlight drew some good-natured ribbing from his teammates. His play did have an effect on the team.

“I haven’t seen us with that type of emotion,” Avery Johnson said. “The bench is standing up the whole time and I know Eddie Jones had something to do with that because these guys pull for each other. We were physical. If that team talked to us, we talked back. And we had that. I like that focus. I liked that physicality.”

Jones has been working hard to get his weight down and rehab his troublesome knee.

“Eddie Jones hadn’t really done much the whole year, but we’ve been keeping him ready,” Johnson said. “He’s been rehabbing and keeping his weight under control, and then last night he steps up big for us. When those guys aren’t playing, we’ve got to try to keep them ready as much as we can.”

Stack doesn't make West Coast trip

Jerry Stackhouse (strained groin) didn’t make the road trip, instead electing to remain in the Dallas to get treatment. The earliest he could return, based on the timetable of 7-10 days, is next Thursday against Utah at American Airlines Center.

“It’s a tough break for us because we thought he was playing some of his best basketball,” Avery Johnson said.

Maybe Stackhouse can take a turn in the hyperbaric chamber Dirk Nowitzki used. Stackhouse has been dealing with groin issues throughout the season. Jason Terry is starting in his place. Devean George, Eddie Jones and Antoine Wright are also part of the swingman rotation in Stackhouse’s absence.

Thursday, April 3, 2008

Victory gets Mavs back on track

They’re back to having a chance. The Mavericks left Dallas for the West Coast with a renewed confidence and noticeable skip in their step. Exercising a few demons does that for a team.

The next step is building on that 25-point stomping of Golden State and riding that momentum into a postseason that suddenly appears in better focus. As important as it was on several levels to beat the Warriors, the next rung isn’t any less steep.

The Mavs don’t have the same playoff history with Kobe Bryant and the Los Angeles Lakers, but the thorn driven home by the Pacific Division leaders is just as painful. Bryant, a leading MVP contender, has tortured the Mavs with some pretty scary numbers over the years.

Friday night’s visit to Staples Center is also a possible first round preview, though there’s still plenty to settle in the pairings with less than two weeks left in the regular season. The Mavs (47-28) are seventh in the Western Conference, while the Lakers (51-24) are battling for a top seed. Both have seven games left.

“We’re just trying to play them all out,” Avery Johnson said Thursday before leaving for LA. “Whether we were playing Memphis seven times or San Antonio or Houston, it doesn’t matter who we’re playing. We need to just keep playing good basketball. We need to try to build some momentum and get some sort of swagger.

“Golden State is a team that’s had it against us and this year we’ve had it against them. It was good to see. We just need to keep trying to build some momentum. It’s not the easiest thing to do. We know we’re going to be underdogs going out here to play against the Lakers, but we were underdogs yesterday in a lot of people’s minds playing against the Warriors. We just need to keep fighting.”

Read the rest of this story with a Lakers preview at

Wednesday, April 2, 2008

Notables from 111-86 win vs. Warriors

TONIGHT’S KEY RUN: Dallas used a 14-3 run between the 1.3 seconds mark in the 1st quarter and the 9:09 mark in the 2nd to take a 41-28 lead. They never surrendered the lead or allowed the Warriors to tie.

• Dirk Nowitzki (left ankle/knee sprain) returned to the starting lineup after missing four games with the injury. He finished the game with 18 points (6-15 FGs, 1-2 3FGs, 5-6 FTs).
• Jason Terry tied his season-high with 31 points (11-21 FGs, 3-9 3FGs, ). (also scored 31 vs. HOU, 11/5/07)
• Over the last 5 games, Josh Howard is averaging 30.2 points per game. Tonight, he had 28 points (14-25 FGs).
• Jason Kidd tied his season-high with 17 assists (done three times). He earned a double-double with 11 rebounds. It was the first time this season he had double figures in rebounds and assists but did not score at least 10 points.
• For just the third time this season, Eddie Jones scored in double figures. Twelve points (5-10 FGs, 2-5 3FGs) marked his highest offensive output since scoring 10 points @ SAC (1/14/08).
• Dallas had a season-high 35 assists on their 45 field goal makes. (previous high was 34 vs. CHA, 3/12/08)
• Dallas came down with a season-high 56 rebounds (17 OR). (previous high was 54, done twice)
• The Mavs held the league’s highest scoring team (110.8 ppg) to just 86 points tonight – four more than the Warriors season-low.
• Tonight’s attendance was 20,331 fans (19,200 capacity). The Mavs have sold out 273 consecutive regular season games at AAC and 310 games including the postseason. Dallas currently owns the longest running sellout streak in the NBA. The Sacramento Kings previously held the streak but failed to sellout their home opener this season. The Mavs are now ranked #10 on the all-time NBA sellout streak list.

Dirk inspiring in Golden romp

Buoyed by the stirring return of the MVP, the Mavericks gave their playoff hopes and psyche a considerable boost by blowing past Golden State 111-86 Wednesday night at American Airlines Center. Dirk Nowitzki set the tone just by suiting up and wave of emotion never washed out.

“Just seeing Dirk out there gave us a lot of life,” Josh Howard said. “His presence is big on this team and we came out and played hard for him. He showed a lot of energy when he was on the court and that carried over to everyone.”

The victory keeps the Mavs (47-28) seventh in the Western Conference and pushed ninth-place Golden State (45-30) two games back. It also gave Dallas a 3-1 series win over the Warriors. Denver (46-29) sits eighth.

The win also means something upstairs. The Mavs had dropped 11 in a row to teams with winning records, including 10 straight since adding Jason Kidd. Beating the team that sent them packing last summer is also huge. Two contenders are up next – the Los Angeles Lakers and Phoenix – on the road this weekend.

“If we want to do something in the playoffs,” Nowitzki said, “we have to do it together.”

Back after missing four games, Nowitzki sent a charge through the building during pregame warm-ups and the sellout crowd of 20,331 exploded when starting lineups were announced. (In a display of gamesmanship, Avery Johnson and Don Nelson exchanged starting lineups about 20 minutes before tip. It’s usually about an hour.)

Avery Johnson admitted after the game that everyone in Mavsland knew that Nowitzki would play. The ruse was another example of the chess match coaches play.

“Nellie taught me that,” Johnson quipped.

Nowitzki didn’t lead the team in any statistical category, but he wasn’t out there to pull a Willis Reed. The team’s leading scorer and rebounder tallied 18 points and five boards in 27 scripted minutes. Nowitzki played in spurts of about 4-6 minutes in the first half and wasn’t left on the bench too long. He also had a message for his teammate before the game.

“Let’s hoop,” he said

Read the rest of this story with more game coverage at

Nowitzki to start

Well, Dirk Nowitzki is starting. The reigning MVP is back after missing four games for the most important game of the season to this point.

Nowitzki went through a pregame workout with Avery Johnson and convinced everyone that he’s ready to go. Expect him to play quite a bit of center against the small-ball Warriors.

The add even more drama to the moment, Nowitzki was introduced last during starting lineups. He had been first since the addition of Jason Kidd.

Nowitzki is suiting up tonight

Dirk Nowitzki is on the active roster, a somewhat surprising turn of events considering the tone of this morning. Though it’s not a guarantee he’ll play, the move at least leaves the option open.

Nowitzki’s presence on the 12-man roster means a healthy player is inactive, making it more likely Nowitzki could see action. Of the three on the inactive list – Jamaal Magloire, Jerry Stackhouse and JJ Barea – Magloire and Barea are not hurt.

Nowitzki worked out again on the court less than 90 minutes before tip-off. The training staff is watching him closely and Nowitzki wouldn’t play if the risk of further injury was significant.

Avery Johnson sees tonight as a one of those step-it-up moments for his team whether Nowitzki plays or not.

“When you have challenges, then it’s a great opportunity,” Johnson said. “I think we have a great opportunity tonight with whomever we have in uniform.”

No Dirk doesn't mean doom

Not having Dirk Nowitzki doesn’t bode well, but it doesn’t mean the impossible either. Teams win without their superstars. Just look at what Houston did without Yao Ming at first.

Golden State is coming off last night’s loss at San Antonio, which has left the Warriors ninth in the Western Conference. The Mavs were competitive Sunday at Golden State – without Nowitzki and Jerry Stackhouse – before falling 114-104.

“We can use [Nowitzki], but at the same time if we correct some of our errors that we had up in Golden State this last time, we still feel that we have a chance to win,” Avery Johnson said. “We some opportunities to score a little bit more. We had some opportunities to hold them down a little bit more with our defense. We had a lot of correctable errors and if he doesn’t play, we still have a great shot of winning this game.”

Nowitzki not ready; Stack out a week

Dirk Nowitzki likely will not play tonight against those pesky Warriors. He participated in today’s shootaround and all indications are that the reigning MVP isn’t physically ready to return. Nowitzki has missed the last four games with a high left ankle/knee sprain suffered against San Antonio.

The knee is fine, but the ankle remains in a custom brace. Soreness remains and sharp movements, such as stop and starts, change in direction and pushing off that ankle, are troublesome.

“I’ve got to be pain free,” Nowitzki said. “If I can’t move out there, try to defend and move my feet, it really doesn’t make any sense to be out there just hobbling around. It won’t help anybody. I’d rather have somebody else out there 100 percent.”

Nowitzki doesn’t have to be at 100 percent to get back. He said he can function at 85-90 percent, but admitted he might have to come back even earlier than that.

“If I wait until I’m 100 percent, I think the regular season is going to be over,” he said.

As always, the training staff and Avery Johnson want to monitor Nowitzki’s recovery this afternoon before making a definitive decision for the game. Nowitzki, however, appears resigned to the fact that it won’t be tonight. He didn’t want to speculate about the weekend trip to the LA Lakers and Phoenix.

Compensation issues are also at stake, as in Nowitzki favoring the ankle and having that lead to injuries somewhere else. There’s also a balancing act of the team needing Nowitzki now and the franchise needing him for years to come.

“We don’t want to put him in any long-term danger,” said Johnson, who added that the team is preparing to play without Nowitzki.

A Mavs’ victory tonight means essentially a three-game lead over Golden State with seven games to play. The lead would be two games in the standings plus the head-to-head tiebreaker. Dallas currently leads the series 2-1.

“Obviously, I would love to play tonight,” Nowitzki said. “It’s a huge game.”

The news on Jerry Stackhouse (strained groin) isn’t good, either. He underwent an MRI exam today and he’s out for at least a week.

Tuesday, April 1, 2008

Nowitzki may play vs. Golden State

Dirk Nowitzki has been upgraded to day-to-day for tomorrow night’s game against Golden State at American Airlines Center. Nowitzki appeared to move OK during a short workout and shooting session today with Avery Johnson.

Johnson said the next step is waiting to see how Nowitzki recovers tonight and does tomorrow morning at shootaround before deciding if he’ll play. Nowitzki could play some center, Johnson added, against the Warriors since Don Nelson likes to play four guards and one big.

Nowitzki has missed the last four games with a high left ankle sprain and mild left knee sprain. The Mavs went 2-2, with both wins coming against the LA Clippers.

Jerry Stackhouse (strained right groin) remains day-to-day. He missed the last two games of the just-completed road trip after suffering the injury at Denver.

More of the same ahead starting w/ G-State

You can almost hear the exasperated voice of the everything-must-go-liquidation-sale guy from those annoying TV commercials.

“It’s all going down this week, folks. We don’t care how you get there. Just get … a win!”

We’ve heard it plenty in the last few weeks. The Mavericks begin another of those seize-the-moment stretches with the next biggest game of the season Wednesday night. Fellow playoff hopeful Golden State enters American Airlines Center on the second leg of a four-game trip that opened Tuesday night at San Antonio.

The Mavs can’t look past the Warriors, even with trips to the Los Angeles Lakers and Phoenix on the horizon. As one assistant coach described it, “We need eight one-game winning streaks.” Such a run ensures a postseason spot and a possible higher seed than the current No. 7 slot.

Watching the standings may occupy the time of fans and media both, especially with each passing day rearranging playoff pairings, but it can’t be the focus for those donning sneakers. They can’t control what happens elsewhere across the wild, wild Western Conference.

“Right now, you can’t play the scoreboard,” Jason Kidd said. “You just concentrate on what you can take care of. If we win then we’ve done our job.”

Read the rest of this story with a Warriors’ preview at

Mavs get needed win in LA

LOS ANGELES – The Mavericks needed a victory. They needed something positive to happen after another set of good-but-not-good-enough performances.

They won’t get any style points or much credit for that matter for their workmanlike 93-86 win Monday night over the Clippers at Staples Center. But the only points the Mavs care about right now are on the scoreboard, and for only the second time in the last seven games, the Mavs had more.

“We just needed to get a win,” Avery Johnson said. “More than anything that will help with confidence just to be able to win and win a road game. … Hopefully, we’ll get a few more balls to bounce our way. We’ve had two tough losses here on the road in different ways. Hopefully, we’ll go home and protect our home court against a team that we lost to the last time.”

The three-way tie for seventh place in the Western Conference lasted only a day. The Mavs (46-28) also took sole possession of seventh and idle Golden State dropped a half-game back into eighth. Denver is back down to No. 9 after falling at Phoenix. The Mavs fell to both the Warriors and Nuggets to open the three-game road trip.

Golden State visits American Airlines Center on Wednesday, but not before a Tuesday stop in San Antonio. Golden State begins another challenging stretch, as the next three games are against winning teams. Two are on the road – back in LA against the Lakers on Friday and Sunday at Phoenix.

An aggressive Jason Kidd was looking for his shot from the start and produced a first-quarter stat line not often seen from the pass-happy point guard: 14 points and zero assists. Kidd remained the only consistent offensive threat throughout the night, finishing with season-high 27 points on 9-of-15 shooting and four dimes.

“I was just looking to be aggressive,” Kidd said. “With Dirk out, I’m trying to be more aggressive and look for my shot. Coach is encouraging me and my teammates to score a little bit more than maybe in the past.”

Read the rest of this story and get more game coverage at

Monday, March 31, 2008

Jet stuck in holding pattern

The Jet hasn’t gotten off of the runway much lately. During the stretch of five losses in the last six games, Jason Terry is shooting just 39.7 percent. From beyond the arc, it’s 23.1 percent.

It’s hard to remember the last time Terry reeled off one of his patented runs of five or six straight makes. That momentum-turning 3-pointer hasn’t been falling, either.

“Now would be a good time for it,” Avery Johnson admitted. “Josh [Howard] went through a period here during the season where things weren’t going great for him. Sometimes if it happens in the middle of the season or sometime right before or after the All-Star break you can live with it, but right now we really can’t afford for anybody to be long-term slump.

“Hopefully he’ll just continue to take his shots and some more will fall, because we definitely need his offense.”

Kaman is a better matchup for Damp

Andris Biedrins means less Erick Dampier. Chris Kaman means more. The Warriors’ pace and small frontline isn’t the best for matchup for Dampier, who logged just 12 ½ minutes last night.

“It’s a fast game,” Avery Johnson said contests with Golden State. “Historically, he hasn’t had his better games against that team. We’ve tried extending the minutes and it just hadn’t worked out, and there have been one or two other teams like that. He should have plenty of energy tonight. We’ll definitely need it with Kaman playing.”

The traditional center – Kaman is 7-foot and 256 pounds – recently returned from a sore lower back. It just got easier for Damp. Kaman is out with a sprained ankle suffered in the first quarter.

Nowitzki update: He's jogging

The word continues to be positive on Dirk Nowitzki coming out of Dallas. He was on the court today, but it’s still too early to put on timetable on his return.

“He’s jogging a little bit,” Avery Johnson said. “But to play this game you’ve got to cut, you’ve got to slide, you’ve got to jump, you’ve got to rebound and it’s just a lot involved. We’ll have a chance to see him and we’ll see what happens.”

Johnson is putting Nowitzki through a workout tomorrow after the team flies home. Though Nowitzki wants to get back yesterday, he won’t be rushed by the organization.

“We just want to do what’s best for Dirk, first of all,” Johnson said. “We don’t want to put him out there and have him re-injure himself. Sometimes when a guy hurts an ankle or a knee, they can tend to overcompensate and something else goes wrong.”

Stack still out tonight vs. Clippers

Jerry Stackhouse is targeting a Wednesday return from the strained right groin suffered Thursday at Denver. He didn’t play last night at Golden State and won’t suit up tonight against the Clippers.

Stackhouse tweaked the groin, which has given him problems at times throughout the season, trying in vain to run down Nuggets guard Anthony Carter. Stackhouse was going the opposite way before quickly reversing ground when Carter broke free for a dunk.

Stackhouse knew at the time there was no way he would catch Carter. The reaction was more instinctual. Stackhouse continued to play because the outcome was in doubt. The Warriors and Mavs complete their season series Wednesday at American Airlines Center.

Sunday, March 30, 2008

Mavs can't bridge the gap at Golden State

OAKLAND – Now this is tight. The three-team dog pile at the bottom of the Western Conference playoff picture took a new dimension after Golden State held off the Mavericks 114-104 Sunday night at ORACLE Arena.

The Mavs, Warriors and Denver are all tied with 45-28 records (seventh best in the West) with nine games left in the regular season. The tiebreaking scenarios are too numerous to mention, especially with games left to be played among the three.

The Mavs, up 2-1 in the season series, host Golden State on Wednesday. The Warriors and Nuggets square off one more time. Denver won the series 2-1 from Dallas. Though nothing has been settled throughout the conference, it appears the final two postseason spots will come from this trio.

That, of course, can change. And it will. As of the close of NBA business Sunday night, the tiebreaker formula had the Nuggets and Mavs in the playoffs, as the seventh and eighth seeds, respectively, and Golden State at ninth.

“It’s not exactly fun for us,” Avery Johnson said after the fifth loss in the last six games. “We’d like to be third or fourth. I don’t want to be part of that three-team (race).”

Golden State was coming off a 119-112 loss at Denver the previous night that was as physically demanding as the score indicates. The high-scoring trio of Stephen Jackson, Monta Ellis and Baron Davis each played at least 44 ½ minutes before flying back to Oakland after the game.

The Mavs, on the other hand, had a two-day break after leaving Denver late Thursday night and took advantage of the Warriors’ heavy legs. Josh Howard and Jason Terry combined for 10 points in the blazing 12-0 that covered the first four minutes.

The lead was still 12 (21-9) when Golden State caught its breath and began to mount a comeback. The jumpers started falling, Dallas’ stopped and the Warriors actually took a 27-26 edge into the second period.

The Warriors played with the lead for the rest of the night and it topped out at 14 in the third quarter. But the Mavs continued to battle, as they have throughout these trying times. Howard (36 points) continued to step up, hitting the 30-point plateau for the third straight time without Dirk Nowitzki in the lineup, and almost single-handedly willing a victory.

The Mavs were within four twice in the fourth quarter and both times Golden State answered with a 3-pointer to keep Dallas at arm’s length. The Mavs have dropped the first two on this three-game trip that ends Monday at the Los Angeles Clippers.

“We couldn’t get stops when we needed to, especially in the fourth quarter,” Johnson said.

The record has also dropped to 10-10 with Kidd, who again flirted with his first triple-double since returning to the Mavs. He finished with 13 points, 14 assists and nine rebounds. Terry filled in for an injured Jerry Stackhouse with 15 points, but missed 10 of 15 shots.

“Hopefully we can catch some breaks sometime here soon,” Johnson said. “Again, the effort is there.”

Kidd was not held back

Avery Johnson and Jason Kidd both freely admit the meshing process has taken some time. Johnson, however, bristled at the suggestion that Kidd has been “held back.”

“That’s an overrated thing,” Johnson told reporters Sunday before facing the Warriors. “You guys are always talking about me not turning Jason loose, he’s a 35-year-old point guard. We haven’t held him back in any way, so when you start writing stuff like that it gets all over the country.

“Look at Jason Kidd, he has no restrictions, so we’ve always turned him loose from the first day he got here. He just didn’t know the offense and didn’t know how to work with Josh Howard or Dirk [Nowitzki], but he’s been turned loose from Day 1.”

Johnson isn’t calling many plays while Kidd is on the floor, instead allowing the point guard to dictate the pace of the offense. Kidd has tried to remain in attack mode and not worry about turning the ball over.

“I play my best sometimes if I kick the ball into the stands being aggressive,” he said. “Some of the turnovers were just the anticipation of guys maybe being in a spot that I thought they would be in and then going the other way. That falls on my shoulders. I have to protect the ball.”

First the Mavericks had to adjust to playing with Kidd. Now they’re adjusting to life without Nowitzki. Johnson needs to get more production from Howard, Jason Terry, Jerry Stackhouse, who was out against Golden State, and on down the line.

“You’ve got to find a way to get 25 collectively in some places,” Johnson said.

Stack out with strained groin

The lineup is even thinner tonight with Jerry Stackhouse out with a strained right groin. The injury happened Thursday at Denver when he tried to run down Anthony Carter from behind in the third quarter. It was hoped with two days off that he would be ready to go, but he’s not ready.

Jason Terry started in his place. The loss should also open up more playing time for Devean George, Antoine Wright and possibly Eddie Jones. George did not play against the Nuggets, while Jones made his first appearance in a month.

Nowitzki update: Rehab progressing

Dirk Nowitzki is responding positively to treatment back in Dallas. He’s running in the pool and doing some light shooting, though the reigning MVP was given Sunday off.

Avery Johnson has scheduled a private workout with Nowitzki and a few players on Tuesday. The team returns home after tomorrow night’s game at the LA Clippers.

“He’s progressing pretty good for the severity of that injury, but he’s not ready to play right now,” Johnson said. “Once we get back we’ll take a group over and have a little light workout with him and see where he goes from there because I haven’t seen him face to face. But he’s doing pretty good. He’s shooting a little bit.”

Officially, no timetable has been set to get Nowitzki back, but the good news is that there haven’t been any setbacks.