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11:35 PM CDT on Saturday, April 8, 2006
By CALVIN WATKINS / The Dallas Morning News



The Mavericks didn't have a letdown Saturday night.

With so much to play for now, the Mavericks had little trouble in beating the New Orleans Hornets, 101-77, at American Airlines Center.

"I was concerned about this game," Mavericks coach Avery Johnson said. "Byron Scott has done as good a job as anybody in the league, and they have that team in playoff contention."

On Friday night, the Mavericks had beaten the San Antonio Spurs, 92-86, in a playoff-like environment and inched closer to the top spot in the Western Conference.

Jerry Stackhouse said it's good that opposing teams have an incentive to play for something at this stage of the season because it can only help the Mavericks stay competitive. The Hornets fell 2 ½ games behind eighth-place Sacramento in the Western Conference.

"We wanted to come out and set the tone early, and we didn't want to let down," Stackhouse said. "That team is playing for something and playing hard, and we got them on their heels."

The victory pushed the Mavericks within a half-game of first place San Antonio in the Southwest Division and the top seed in the conference.

The win also gave the Mavericks a final division record of 13-3, which is important.

Should the Spurs and Mavericks finish the regular season tied, the first tiebreaker is season series – the teams split four meetings.

The next tiebreaker is division record, and Spurs (11-3) have two games left. Conference record is the next tiebreaker.

If the Mavericks fail to capture the top seed, they would be the fourth seed – with a potential second-round date against the Spurs, who'd have home-court advantage.

New Orleans looks to be facing an uphill battle to make the playoffs. The Hornets shot 44.4 percent, were outrebounded 48-30 and committed 18 turnovers.

Rasual Butler led the Hornets with 14 points in 30 minutes.

Dallas took control early and jumped to a 56-39 halftime lead that was pushed to as much as 22 points in the third quarter.

Dirk Nowitzki led the Mavericks with 20 points on 6-of-12 shooting. Josh Howard and Jason Terry added 19 points each. Marquis Daniels scored 13 points off the bench in 28 effective minutes.

After struggling on a 1-4 road trip in late March, there was a belief the Mavericks' chances of catching the Spurs were over.

But the Mavericks have responded with a four-game win streak over the last seven days. It's the team's longest win streak since a six-game spurt in February.

Now, the Mavericks head out on a three-game trip with plenty on the line again. The Spurs host Memphis today, and Dallas visits the Clippers on Monday.

"They are still trying to get back on my good side after that three-game losing streak," Johnson said before the game."

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