3-25-08 -- Life without Dirk Nowitzki started quite nicely for the Dallas Mavericks.
Josh Howard scored 32 points, Jerry Stackhouse had 20, Erick Dampier had 19 points and 17 rebounds and Jason Kidd neared a triple-double, lifting the Mavs past the Los Angeles Clippers 103-90 on Tuesday night.
OK, so it was only the Clippers. Still, Dallas needed something to go right after dropping three straight games and losing its leading scorer and rebounder to a sprained ankle and knee. And this kind of team-wide effort could serve as a blueprint for how they hope to make up for Nowitzki’s absence down the stretch.
“If everyone goes up four or five points, that’ll cover it,” Howard said.
Howard was an All-Star last season and was the team’s top scorer for the early part of this season, but he’s been fighting through injuries and learning to play with Kidd. This was easily his best game since the All-Star point guard arrived.
It didn’t start that way, with Howard going 2-of-11 and getting to the line only once in the first half. Dampier was the early star, getting 12 points and 12 rebounds over the first two quarters.
“Damp obviously was very inspired,” coach Avery Johnson said. “We need him to do what he did tonight, not necessarily the numbers but being aggressive going to the basket.”
But in the third quarter Dallas was up only 60-58 and in need of a Nowitzki-like surge. Howard provided it, scoring 20 of the team’s next 26 points, putting them up by 16 early in the fourth quarter. The Mavericks stretched it out enough that Johnson emptied the bench in the final few minutes.
Howard finished 8-of-22 and made all 15 of his free throws. He also had seven rebounds and four steals.
“For him to get to the line like that, that was very important,” Kidd said. “He was aggressive, kept driving to the basket and was active on defense.”
Kidd had 10 points, eight assists and six rebounds. Dampier’s rebounds tied his season high. Malik Allen started for Nowitzki, but got two fouls in the first 2:21 and went to the bench. He finished with six points and tied his season high with nine rebounds.
Nowitzki watched from the bench, wearing a light beige jacket, even lighter shirt and a protective boot on his left ankle. His swelling was expected to be done Tuesday, so he could start a rehabilitation program soon.
The Mavericks are tightlipped about when Nowitzki might be back, but it’s safe to say the longer he’s out, the tougher it will be for them to make the playoffs—unless they get more performances like this.
“We’re up to the challenge,” Stackhouse said. “We don’t have to win out. But we all have to pick it up a little.”
The win keeps Dallas (45-26) in the seventh spot in the West, two games ahead of Golden State and 2 1/2 ahead of Denver. The Mavericks are headed on the road for games against those two teams, and will play five of their next six against teams in the playoff chase. This stretch will give Kidd another chance to prove he was worth trading for; so far, with him in the lineup, the Mavs are 10-0 against teams with losing records, 0-8 vs. teams with winning records.
“Winning has always been a great deodorant,” Kidd said.
The Clippers lost their eighth straight, but at least they have something to look forward to as former All-Star Elton Brand said before the game he expects to return for as many as the final eight games. He’s been out all season recovering from a torn Achilles’ tendon.
“We did a good job as long as we could,” coach Mike Dunleavy said. “I thought we played hard. We didn’t give up. We didn’t bow out.”
Corey Maggette led Los Angeles with 21 points before fouling out. Tim Thomas had 13, most coming on consecutive 3-pointers in the third quarter, and Nick Fazekas had 10 points in 16 minutes. Fazekas was a second-round pick by Dallas who was cut to make room for the players acquired in the Kidd trade.
The Mavericks were 0-1 without Nowitzki this season and 15-11 (.577) without him for his career. They’re 495-255 (.660) with him. … Johnson indicated the Mavs have a target date for Nowitzki to return, but they aren’t sharing it. Meanwhile, Germany coach Dirk Bauermann said, “I have no fear at all that Dirk will be missing” from the Olympic qualifying tournament in July in Athens. Bauermann said he’s exchanged text messages with Nowitzki since the injury. … Johnson turned 43 Tuesday. He celebrated by releasing a new autobiography.