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Nowitzki leads Dallas past Phoenix

Stephen Hawkins Associated Press

DALLAS – Dirk Nowitzki finally had the kind of shooting night the Dallas Mavericks had been waiting for, and Josh Howard did more than pitch in.

That was too much for the Phoenix Suns and Steve Nash, the MVP who couldn’t beat his former team by himself – no matter how much he scored.

The Mavericks defeated the Suns 119-109 in Game 4 on Sunday night to even the Western Conference semifinal series 2-2. Game 5 is Wednesday night in Phoenix.

Nash scored a playoff career-high 48 points, including 23 in the third quarter when he scored 16 straight for the Suns, but he also committed nine turnovers.

Howard kept going to the basket, scoring on layups, drawing fouls and grabbing offensive rebounds. He finished with 29 points, a career playoff high, with 10 rebounds – six of them on the offensive end – while Nowitzki finally snapped out of his postseason shooting slump with 25 points on 9-of-15 shooting.

Nowitzki entered the game shooting just 38 percent in the playoffs – his season average was 46 percent – and was 16 of 42 the last two games.

While Nash made 20 of 28 shots, the Mavs finally were able to neutralize Amare Stoudemire, who had scored at least 30 points in three straight games with plenty of rim-rattling dunks – including seven Friday night when the Suns won 119-102 in Dallas.

In Game 4, Stoudemire had more fouls (5) than field goals (3), none of them dunks. He scored nine of his 15 points on free throws.

Just about every time he touched the ball, Stoudemire was surrounded by at least two Mavericks.

Still, Stoudemire managed to make a lucky shot, throwing up a ball that went in after Nowitzki was called for a foul, though the replay showed it was actually Jason Terry that hacked the 22-year-old center.

While Stoudemire missed the free throw, the Suns got the ball back and Quentin Richardson drove for a slam dunk that made it 95-86. But Phoenix wouldn’t get any closer in the final 10 minutes.

Just more than a minute later, Stoudemire picked up his fifth foul when Howard drove for a reserve layup and it was 99-86.

Erick Dampier, the foul-plagued Mavericks center criticized by Nowitzki earlier in the series, had 13 points and 11 rebounds.

Coach Avery Johnson had pledged that Dampier would keep playing, even if he got in early foul trouble. That wasn’t even a concern until after halftime, when the Mavericks had a 66-50 lead.

Dampier made all five of his shots for 10 points and eight rebounds in the first half, and didn’t have his second foul until 2:15 remained. By the time Dampier missed his first shot and then had two fouls in an 11-second span early in the second half, he had already helped set a positive tone inside for Dallas.

Jerry Stackhouse had 22 points off the bench for the Mavericks.

Phoenix got no help from its reserves, with all but three points coming from the starters. Leandro Barbosa played 22 minutes, while Walter McCarty and Steve Hunter only combined for seven minutes of action.

Jim Jackson, starting in place of injured Suns guard Joe Johnson, had just 11 points while playing 44 minutes.

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