Cavs' playoff hopes dwindle with loss to Mavs

Posted: Wednesday, March 31, 2004

DALLAS - Already the league's highest-scoring team, the Dallas Mavericks are trying to improve their playoff chances by doing more of what they do best.

The early results are good, even if the opponents haven't been.

Dirk Nowitzki had 35 points and a season-high 18 rebounds and Steve Nash added a season-high 31 points and 10 assists, leading Dallas past the Cleveland Cavaliers 126-109 Tuesday night in the Mavs' second game of their return to a smallball lineup.

"Everyone talks about our defense, but we're not a defensive team," Nash said. "We shouldn't try to live up to that standard. Pushing the ball and attacking - that's our best game. We've got to remember who we are. We're an offensive team."

Coach Don Nelson switched to a starting five featuring 6-foot-9 Antoine Walker at center after his club lost three straight and was in a 6-8 rut. In the debut Sunday, Dallas beat Orlando by 30.

Another lopsided win against a second-tier team from the Eastern Conference proved little, although it could help build some much-needed momentum for April and May. This victory clinched a playoff berth and moved Dallas within two games of Memphis for the fifth seed in the West.

Next up is Sacramento on Thursday night, which should provide a better test for the new scheme.

"We won a lot of games at the end of last year with our small lineup," Nowitzki said. "There are not many teams that can match up with us when we go small."

The Cavaliers did for three quarters, thanks mostly to LeBron James.

James finished with 28 points, six assists and five rebounds, and had his usual assortment of breathtaking plays. He flew over Michael Finley for a backboard-rattling dunk less than two minutes into the game, threw down an even more powerful dunk on a breakaway and made highlight reel moves for baskets against Nowitzki and Nash.

Cleveland still lost its second straight and sixth in seven games. The 42nd loss of the season also clinched a losing record for the Cavs, dropping them two games behind Boston for the final playoff spot in the East.

"We know we need wins," James said. "We've overachieved this year. Not being in the playoffs would hurt, but we're not going to hang our heads if we don't make it. We've got to keep playing the same game we've been playing all year."

Carlos Boozer of Juneau had 23 points and 20 rebounds for his 36th double-double and second 20-20 game of the season as Cleveland had four players score 20 points or more for the first time since 1997. Zydrunas Ilgauskas scored 26 points and Lee Nailon added 23, yet the Cavaliers got little from anyone else. The fifth starter, Kevin Ollie, had just one basket, and the reserves scored only seven points, most in garbage time.

"The smallball lineup got to us a little," Boozer said. "I thought we did a good job with them until the end."

Dallas' rookies lived up to the James challenge, with Josh Howard tying his season high with 19 points and seven rebounds and Marquis Daniels scoring 17.

Howard also had the game-deciding basket, a 3-pointer with 5:28 left that gave Dallas a 12-point lead.

Walker had 11 points and nine rebounds. Finley returned from three games off because of a calf injury but played only 10 minutes, scoring two points.

"As long as he is ready by playoffs and ready to play some long minutes the last three or four games of the season, I'd be happy," Nelson said.

The Cavaliers led by seven in the first quarter and James gave fans their money's worth in the first half.

Nearly all of his nine field goals in the first two quarters showed something special. Even his misses were lively, such as airballs on a 3-pointer and a scooping layup that was so far off that he was laughing. The half ended with him throwing down a left-handed slam of a long rebound, albeit after the buzzer.

Nuggets 124, SuperSonics 119

DENVER - Carmelo Anthony had a career-high 41 points and Andre Miller added 14 points and 16 assists, helping the Nuggets move into a tie for the final Western Conference playoff spot.

Anthony was 19-for-29 as Denver shot 50 percent to tie idle Utah for eighth place in the West. Nene added 19 points and Marcus Camby 15 for the Nuggets, who have seven games left to secure their first playoff appearance since 1995.

Rashard Lewis had 26 points and Ray Allen 24 for Seattle, which dropped four games behind Utah and Denver despite shooting 50 percent.

Lakers 107, Hornets 88

LOS ANGELES - Kobe Bryant scored 23 points and Gary Payton added 20 as the Lakers routed the short-handed Hornets despite falling behind by 12 points in the opening four minutes.

The win was the ninth straight for the Lakers (51-23), who moved within 1 1/2 games of the Western Conference-leading Sacramento Kings.

The Lakers, who have an NBA-best 20-4 record since the All-Star break, have eight games remaining including five at home. The Kings have nine left including six on the road. The teams meet in Sacramento on April 11.

New Orleans (37-37) lost for the fifth time in six games, dropping to .500 for the first time this season and into a tie with Milwaukee for fourth place in the Eastern Conference. The Hornets played without injured stars Baron Davis and Jamal Mashburn.

76ers 95, Warriors 71

PHILADELPHIA - Samuel Dalembert had 18 points and 13 rebounds, and Kenny Thomas had 13 points and 14 rebounds to lead the 76ers to a win over Golden State, snapping the Warriors' seven-game winning streak.

The Sixers again played without Allen Iverson, who will miss the rest of the season because of persistent pain in his right knee. An MRI showed a small lesion under Iverson's knee cap, but there was no meniscal or ligament damage.

Iverson was not on the bench as the Sixers (32-43) kept their fading playoff hopes alive and improved to 13-14 without the NBA's second-leading scorer.

Dalembert and Aaron McKie led the way during a decisive 30-6 run in the third quarter.

Bucks 95, Pacers 86

MILWAUKEE - Joe Smith matched his season high with 25 points and added 14 rebounds, and the Milwaukee Bucks defeated the Indiana Pacers for the third time this season.

The victory snapped a four-game home losing streak for the Bucks (37-37), who play at Indiana on Wednesday night in the teams' fourth and final meeting of the season.

Jermaine O'Neal led the Pacers with 20 points. Indiana had its four-game winning streak snapped.

For Smith, it was his fourth 20-point night in the last five games.Leading scorer Michael Redd had just 12 points for Milwaukee and played only eight minutes in the second half after sustaining a cut near his right eye early in the third quarter.



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