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PHOENIX, ARIZ.—The Dallas Mavericks make their first trip of the season to Phoenix to take on the Phoenix Suns at U.S. Airways Center.  Dallas leads the season series 1-0 after beating Phoenix 112-97 behind Dirk Nowitzki’s 39 points.

Dallas defeated the New York Knicks last night 99-94.  Josh Howard led the Mavericks with 19 points, while Jason Kidd added 16 points to go with his seven-rebound, four-steal, and three-assist performance.  Dirk Nowitzki, the NBA’s fifth-leading scorer, shot only 3-13 from the field for 10 points, almost 15 points below his average.  It was noted that Nowitzki played 38 minutes with a fever.

Phoenix is coming off a disappointing performance against the Indian Pacers.  The Suns took their only lead of the game on a Leandro Barbosa 3-pointer with 45 seconds left.  The Pacers tied the game at 110 and then designed Danny Granger’s game-winning 28-footer during a timeout with .09 seconds remaining.  The Suns are no stranger to last-minute games: San Antonio’s George Mason beat the Suns on a last-minute 3-pointer on Christmas Day and Grant Hill beat the Orlando Magic on a last-minute reverse layup on December 12th.

Both teams continue to struggle after making headline grabbing changes last year.  This time last year, Dallas and Phoenix had better individual records.  Then the Los Angeles Lakers upset the balance of power in the West by trading for Pau Gasol.  The Mavericks and the Suns haven’t been the same since.

Coaching changes and big name trades are not producing consistent results.  Dallas has been streaky, opening the season 2-7 then winning their next 20 of 26 games.  The Mavericks have lost four games to teams without a winning record and lost two games apiece to both the Lakers and Denver Nuggets.

Phoenix has had trouble establishing winning momentum; two-and three-game winning streaks are followed by two-and three-game losing streaks. The Suns are 6-4 in games decided by two-possessions or less and 4-2 in games decided by two points or less.  On the other hand, seven of the 13 losses were by double digits.

However, both coaches will tell you the season is still early.  Most teams have 50 games left.  If the season ended today, Dallas would own the fifth playoff spot while Phoenix would get the last playoff spot.   However, three and one half games separate spots 2-8.  Stronger teams need to close out games against weaker opponents and then steal some games they weren’t expected to win.  (At their current pace, the Suns would finish the season with 49 wins, which would not be good enough for a spot in last year’s playoffs.)

Which leads us to tonight’s matchup.  Steve Nash (who played in the Pacer game with the flu) and Shaquille O’Neal (who did not play in the Pacer game because of back spasms) have had nearly two days to rest.  Nowitski played in last night’s game against the Knicks with a fever.

The Suns will be hungry for a win, hoping to not let the Pacer game performance repeat itself and to avenge a 15-point loss the Dallas earlier.  A Mavericks win can put them within a half-game of division leader San Antonio.  Defense will be sacrificed; look for both teams to score over 100.

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