DALLAS (AP) - Dirk Nowitzki and the Dallas Mavericks are slowly starting to perform a little more like the defending NBA champs.
Nowitzki scored 20 points in his 1,000th NBA game to lead the Mavericks to a 98-89 victory over the Phoenix Suns on Wednesday night.
Jason Terry contributed 18 points, including nine in the fourth quarter, to help the Mavs (3-4) string together consecutive wins for the first time this season.
``We said at the beginning, we're going to be a piece of work and everybody is going to come along and I think this team is more set up to peak down the stretch and not now,' Nowitzki said. ``Everybody's got to work themselves back into shape, get the legs strong and play with each other more and I think we're going to be a good team down the stretch.'
Lamar Odom added 15 points and five rebounds in his best game since joining the Mavericks in a trade with the Los Angeles Lakers on Dec. 11.
But Dallas coach Rick Carlisle said Odom can do better in just about every area.
``He had good stats, but there are areas where he needs to improve.' Carlisle said.
Steve Nash had 15 points and 12 assists for the Suns (2-4), while Marcin Gortat had 22 points and 10 rebounds.
The Mavericks lost their first three games while trying to introduce five new faces into the lineup after the departures of five key players from the team that won its first title last season.
Now the Mavericks are playing with more cohesion and energy, winning three of four.
``These are steps in the right direction,' said Mavericks forward Shawn Marion, who had 13 points despite being listed as questionable before the game due to illness. ``Things are starting to click on both ends of the floor.'
Nowitzki is the team's career leader in most categories, including points. He already had the record for games played and was appearing in his 975th game as a starter.
``I'm still working to get back to where I was,' said Nowitzki, MVP of the NBA Finals last season. ``It's definitely good to get to 1,000 games, that's a lot of games and means I was healthy a lot and I was able to help my team and this franchise a lot. It's great and now we're looking for another 1,000, we'll see how far we can take it.'
The Mavs broke the game open with a 13-4 third-quarter run capped by five straight points from Nowitzki, including a three-point play for a 62-49 lead.
Terry hit a 3-pointer at the third-quarter buzzer to make it 77-66.
``It was a 3-point momentum play at the end of the quarter, a huge play,' Carlisle said.
Terry connected on three more from behind the arc early in the fourth, the final one pushing the Mavs' advantage to 92-71 with 7:46 remaining.
The Suns kept hustling and trimmed the deficit to 96-87 on Nash's 3-pointer with 2:50 to play, but the Phoenix couldn't get any closer.
The Mavericks were up at halftime, 49-41 behind Nowitzki's 13 points.
For the game, the Suns were outrebounded 53-42, 19-11 on the offensive glass.
``I think we gave up tons of offensive rebounds,' Nash said. ``We held them to 41 percent shooting which is more than acceptable, but we missed a lot of shots. We're OK offensively, but you can't give up so many offensive rebounds like we did tonight.'
Terry and Odom led Dallas to a 51-21 advantage in bench scoring.
``That's where the separation came, with the second units,' Suns coach Alvin Gentry said. ``That's where the lead came and it was hard for us to overcome.'
NOTES: Nowitzki is the 98th player in NBA history with at least 1,000 games. ... The teams met for the first time this season. Dallas swept all four games last season. ... Recently-signed Phoenix G Michael Redd has begun working back into basketball shape but Gentry said Redd won't be ready to be activated for 10-14 days. ... Football players from Arkansas and Kansas State were in attendance. The teams meet Friday in the Cotton Bowl at Cowboys Stadium. ... Dallas' Jason Kidd appeared in his 1,274th regular-season game, tying Terry Porter for 16th on the NBA's career list. Kidd is the league's active leader in games played.
The Associated Press News Service
The Associated Press
All Rights Reserved