Nowitzki, Mavs cruise to 55th victory

3-20-07 -- Dirk Nowitzki and Josh Howard each scored 24 points, and the Dallas Mavericks hit the 55-win mark for the third straight season by beating the New York Knicks 92-77 Tuesday night.

Jason Terry added 15 points for the Mavericks, who pulled away from the short-handed Knicks early in the second half and improved the NBA's best record to 55-11. They have won three in a row after losing consecutive games for first time since starting 0-4.

Erick Dampier had 10 points and 13 rebounds, and Howard grabbed 10 boards as the deeper Mavs wore down the Knicks and shot 53 percent from the field. Reserve Jerry Stackhouse scored 10 points.

Dallas improved to 2-0 on a six-game road trip that opened Sunday with a victory at Eastern Conference-leading Detroit. The Mavericks visit Cleveland, right behind the Pistons in the East standings, on Wednesday.

Eddy Curry had 22 points and 12 rebounds for the Knicks, who are playing without the injured Jamal Crawford, David Lee and Quentin Richardson, and have lost three of four.

In addition, Stephon Marbury left with about 5 1/2 minutes remaining with what looked like an injury to his left arm; Channing Frye missed most of the second half after getting poked in the right eye; and Curry played through a back problem that forced him to miss the morning shootaround.

New York missed a number of shots around the basket and shot only 36 percent as the extra workload some players are facing seemed to be taking its toll. Marbury was 2-of-10 from the field two games after a 3-for-13 showing in a loss to New Orleans.

Before the game, Dallas owner Mark Cuban again talked of how he considered selling the team last summer. Good thing he didn't, because he would've gotten rid of a team that looks like a title contender. The Mavs have won 55 games in five of the last six seasons, and should have no trouble surpassing the franchise-record of 60 victories.

Curry had the first basket of the second half to cut Dallas' lead to 46-45, but Nowitzki and Howard combined for nine straight points. The Mavs stayed comfortably ahead the rest of the period, pushing their lead to 69-55 in the final minute when Nowitzki was fouled while making a jumper.

The Mavericks shot 70 percent in the first quarter, getting 11 points from Howard to take a 30-23 lead. Dallas led throughout the second quarter, though New York trailed only 46-43 at halftime despite shooting just 38.5 percent in the half.