Mavericks 102, Suns 101

Josh Howard carefully peeled the wrapper off a bandage, then

gently applied it to his surgically repaired left ankle. He rubbed

on some cream, pulled up a sock and then, before putting on his

shoe, slipped on a brace, too.

“It’s going to be sore, guys, it’s going to be sore the rest of

the year,” he said.

At least this time the soreness came with a smile. Howard was

back in action after missing 13 games, and was back to his old

tricks on both ends of the court, scoring 20 points and flying

around for rebounds, steals and blocks while helping lift the

Dallas Mavericks to a 102-101 victory over the struggling Phoenix

Suns on Tuesday night.

“I’m surprised he played so well for his first game back,”

Phoenix’s Amare Stoudemire said. “He took his time, got healthy

and it showed.”

The ankle bothered Howard all last season no matter how much

therapy he did, so he had it cleaned up over the summer. He missed

the first five games of the season recovering, then lasted just 2

1/2 before having to be shut down again. Following a nearly

monthlong layoff, he didn’t start Tuesday night and coach Rick

Carlisle wasn’t sure how long he’d use Howard or how good he would

be.

He looked pretty rusty when he came in midway through the first

quarter and he finished the first half with just a pair of free

throws, having missed both shots he took. Then he opened the second

half with a jumper that rammed against the backboard, followed by a

pass to a teammate who wasn’t expecting it, sending the ball

rolling out of bounds.

Then, it all turned around.

Howard scored 16 points during a stretch late in the third

quarter and early in the fourth, taking Dallas from being tied at

66 to leading 88-79. He had the last nine points in that surge,

hitting a 3-pointer from the corner, a pair of free throws, a

14-footer on the baseline and an 18-footer that swished through as

the shot clock expired.

He finished 6 of 13, and 6 of 6 from the line, with six

rebounds, three steals, a block and an assist in 26 minutes.

“We hit a spell there where he was the only offense we had

going,” Carlisle said. “He really kept us afloat. It shows you

how important he is to our team and he just showed a lot of guts

tonight, too. Because he was tired and you could tell he was a

little sore.”

Dirk Nowitzki scored 33 points and was pretty much keeping the

Mavericks in this game by himself until Howard got rolling.

“Once he gets a good rhythm going, we’ll be a really tough team

to beat,” Nowitzki said.

Jason Terry scored 15 points and Shawn Marion added 10 points

and seven rebounds in his first game against his longtime team

since rejoining the Western Conference. J.J. Barea, who had what

likely will become Howard’s spot in the starting lineup, scored 14.

Jason Kidd had 11 assists and seven points as Dallas kept its first

two-game losing streak of the season from stretching any

further.

Phoenix made three 3-pointers in the final 47.9 seconds to make

things interesting all the way to the buzzer, but the Suns wound up

losing for the fourth time in five games. All those losses are on

the road, and they’ve all come in December. Phoenix lost only three

times over the last week of October and all of November.

“We’ve had (an NBA-high) 15 road games, so we’re a little bit

tired,” point guard Steve Nash said. “We’ve got to fight through

that. The legs are a little tired but nobody cares, nobody’s going

to feel sorry for us.”

Nash scored eight of his 27 points in the final minute and had

eight assists. Jason Richardson scored 25, including a long 3

during the final push. Stoudemire had 20 points and Jared Dudley

11.

Phoenix scored 12 points in the final minute to get over 100 for

just the second time in this December plunge. The Suns had been

over 100 points in every game coming into this month.

“Teams are switching every time, making Steve into an offensive

player and keeping the rest of the guys out of sync,” Stoudemire

said. “That’s why we’re not playing fast tempo. But we’ll figure

it out.” Although the Suns led most of the first half and the

Mavericks never trailed again after Howard’s big spurt, the tight

finish was reminiscent of the many great games and playoff series

between these teams in the year since Nash went from Dallas to the

desert.

Terry kept the drama going by missing a free throw with 3.7

seconds left. He intentionally missed the next one. Stoudemire got

the rebound, took a few dribbles then heaved it about 75 feet. It

was pretty much on line but short.

“When Steve kept making those 3s at the end … that felt like

a little deja vu,” Nowitzki said. “But we hung in there.”

NOTES: Carlisle said Howard may miss one of the back-to-back

games on Friday and Saturday nights. … Phoenix’s Lou Amundson

returned after missing two games with the flu. Leandro Barbosa

missed his fourth game because of a sprained left ankle. … A

couple celebrating their 75th wedding anniversary – each wearing

No. 75 Mavs jerseys – were featured on the “kiss cam” during a

timeout. They smooched twice to loud cheers.