DALLAS (AP) - The recent losing streak is history. The more-recent spat is buried. With the regular season winding down, the Dallas Mavericks are tuning up nicely for the playoffs.
Jason Kidd returned from a two-game layoff to spark a strong start and the Mavs were hardly challenged the rest of the way in a 115-90 victory over the Phoenix Suns on Sunday night, keeping alive hopes of snagging the No. 2 seed in the Western Conference.
The Mavericks could catch the Lakers for the second spot, and home-court advantage in the second round of the playoffs, but it won't be easy. Dallas (55-25) needs to finish with one more win than Los Angeles because of the tiebreaker. The Lakers were 55-24 going into their game against Oklahoma City later Sunday; they also had lost four straight, the same skid Dallas was in before beating the Clippers on Friday night.
``I don't know that our team is the kind to lose confidence, but winning is always going to put a more positive vibe in your locker room,' Mavs coach Rick Carlisle said. ``We're still plugging away.'
Dirk Nowitzki scored 19 points and Shawn Marion had 18 points and 11 rebounds for Dallas. The number that mattered most was 28, as in how many minutes each played. Carlisle is as focused on that as he is the playoff standings. The Mavs finish the regular season with games at Houston on Monday night and at home against New Orleans on Wednesday.
``We're building up steam, building up momentum,' said Mavs guard Jason Terry, who scored 17 points. ``That's what you want to do. ... For us, it's about rhythm, it's about flow - how we move the ball offensively, how we fly down defensively. Tonight, you saw a great example of it.'
Terry and J.J. Barea seemed to have resolved the differences from a run-in during a timeout on Friday night. The guards were on the court together late in the first quarter and did just fine. When Barea made a short jumper, Terry came away smiling and pumping an arm in celebration.
``Things happen in the heat of the battle,' Terry said. ``Things that happen off the court, you have to live with and deal with. I've been the emotional leader of this team since I became a Maverick. That's not going to change. We've just got to channel it in the right direction.'
Kidd hadn't played in a week because Carlisle wants the 38-year-old point guard as fresh as possible in the playoffs. He looked great early on, helping Dallas jump ahead 17-4. The Mavs led 36-17 after one quarter, marking their highest-scoring opening period of the season.
It wasn't much of a game after that.
At halftime, Dallas led by 26. The Suns had just 39 points at the break. Although they held the Mavs to 15 points in the third quarter, they still couldn't make much of a move. Phoenix got within 16 points midway through the fourth quarter, only to see Dallas pull away again.
``We lacked energy and passion. We got what we deserve,' Suns star Steve Nash said. ``When you're not playing for anything, it's difficult, but there's no excuse, you've got to come out every night and challenge.'
Phoenix lost its second straight and fourth in five games. It also was the 42nd loss of the season for the Suns, clinching their first losing record since 2003-04, their last season before bringing Nash back from the Mavericks.
Marcin Gortat led Phoenix with 15 points and 11 rebounds. Jared Dudley and Hakim Warrick were the only other Phoenix players in double figures, each having 11 points.
Nash, who'd missed the previous game and three of the last five, had six points and nine assists in 25 minutes.
``(Coach Alvin Gentry) didn't want to push it, especially because we weren't in the game,' said Nash, who is battling a hamstring problem. ``It's tight, it's sore. But I still want to play these last two games. If I'm able, I'll be out there.'
Peja Stojakovic scored 17 points for the Mavericks, many coming during the final push that rebuilt the big final margin. Barea scored 15.
Dallas' big men were productive, too, with Tyson Chandler grabbing 12 rebounds in 19 minutes, and Brendan Haywood having 11 rebounds in 29 minutes.
NOTES: The Mavs swept the season series against the Suns, 4-0. ... This was the final road game for Phoenix; the Suns went 17-24. They finish the season with home games against Minnesota on Monday night and the Spurs on Wednesday night. ... Dallas has never had a season without at least two games going to overtime. With two games left, they've yet to play a single overtime. ... How active was the refreshed Kidd? He had five points, three assists, two steals and a rebound in the first eight minutes. ... Terry made his 1,000th 3-pointer as a Maverick.
The Associated Press News Service
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