Josh Howard is adjusting to all the changes the Dallas Mavericks have made, and he's finally starting to feel like himself again.
Howard had one of his best games since bruising his back last month, scoring 24 points and virtually shutting down Jason Richardson with his defense, as the Mavericks beat Charlotte 118-93 on Wednesday night to snap the Bobcats' franchise-record five-game winning streak.
"Josh, right now, has to guard the primary scorer. That's new territory for him and he's rising to the challenge," coach Avery Johnson said. "I like his physicality, the way he's getting into scorers and getting into their space."
Richardson, the current Eastern Conference player of the week who averaged 29 points the previous six games, was held to 11 points on 4-of-16 shooting. And he only had two free throws, an indication of how well Howard defended him without fouling.
"Josh looks great again," Dirk Nowitzki said. "He's getting to the basket, making shots and passing the ball. If he plays like that, we're going to be tough to beat. ... Josh did a great job on Richardson."
Charlotte has never beaten the Mavericks -- or even scored 100 points against them -- in the eight-game series.
The return of Gerald Wallace wasn't enough to help the Bobcats extend their winning streak, during which they had scored at least 100 points each game following a five-game losing streak.
After missing eight games because of a concussion, Wallace didn't start, but scored 14 points in 22 minutes on 5-of-12 shooting. Raymond Felton had 21 points to lead Charlotte, while Matt Carroll also had 14.
Nowitzki had 26 points and nine rebounds in 28 minutes, and Brandon Bass added 16 points for the Mavericks, who are taking advantage of a stretch of games against sub-.500 teams. They won their third straight since losing to Houston last week.
"They are good and they are getting ready for the playoffs," said Bobcats coach Sam Vincent, a former Dallas assistant. "They were focused. They came out on a mission and we didn't play as well as we have been and couldn't match them."
Howard, who missed two games after falling hard to the floor late against Philadelphia on Feb. 11, hit nine of 15 shots with seven rebounds and six assists. He had 20 points by halftime after his buzzer-beating 3-pointer on a fastbreak pass from Jason Terry that gave the Mavericks a 67-45 lead.
"I'm just playing basketball," Howard insisted. "Limited or not, I'm just trying to help the team win."
Even though the Mavs led 97-66 going into the fourth quarter, and it appeared Howard and Nowitzki were done, Johnson put them back on the court together with Jason Kidd for one stretch to work on specific things. Remember, Kidd has been with the team only three weeks since the veteran point guard was traded from New Jersey.
Plus, the Mavs are trying to work in newcomers Malik Allen and Antoine Wright, and Tyronn Lue made his Mavericks debut Wednesday night with seven points on 3-of-4 shooting in almost 15 minutes.
The Mavericks (42-23), seventh in the Western Conference standings and only 3 1/2 games ahead of ninth place beginning the night, play Indiana and Miami before consecutive games against the Los Angeles Lakers and Boston, the current conference leaders.
Dallas never trailed Charlotte, scoring seven straight points after the game was tied at 2. The lead was 19-7 only 4 minutes into the game after Howard followed up a missed ally-oop with a layup. Howard already had eight points by then.
Bass scored 14 of his points in the second quarter, including three straight jumpers for the Mavericks' first baskets of the quarter for a 42-30 lead. Then he had a block and a pass to Antoine Wright for a 3-pointer, and Charlotte never got closer.