03/01/2007 Mavericks vs. Cleveland
DALLAS(AP)- Asked what he thought when red-hot LeBron James sized up two potential game-tying 3-pointers in the last five seconds, Dirk Nowitzki just exhaled.
So did the rest of the 20,428 at American Airlines Center.
"We dodged a bullet there," Nowitzki said moments later.
Not many bullets have come the Mavs' way the last five weeks -- or, for that matter, for nearly four months -- but the majority of those weaving their way through the maze of the NBA season have been expertly avoided.
The Mavericks didn't lose in February and opened March on the winning end once again. Avery Johnson's machine keeps spitting out victories, the latest a 95-92 thriller Thursday night over James and the Cavaliers.
"We didn't have a great fourth quarter," said Johnson, the Western Conference coach of the month for February. "We weren't good offensively or defensively, but we still got out of here with a victory against a very good basketball team, and, I don't know what you call him, a special player."
The winning streak is up to 14 (tying the franchise record), and the Mavs (49-9) moved 40 games over .500 for only the second time in franchise history, doing it 20 games faster than last season when they peaked at 59-19. The seventh consecutive 50-win season -- and ninth in franchise history -- can be clinched Saturday at home against Orlando.
Fifty, though, has long been a forgone conclusion. At this point, so is 60. As improbable as it seems after the 0-4 start, 70 remains a possibility, just not a priority.
The first loss since Jan. 25 at Chicago appeared a possibility, at least, as James authored a fourth-quarter push. Down 7-10 points from midway through the second period until deep into the fourth, Cleveland made it a ballgame in the final three minutes.
James, however, would rather forget the end of an otherwise exceptional night. His season-long free-throw woes were there for all to see when he missed 1-of-2 with 41 seconds left, leaving the Cavs down three.
After a Mavs turnover, James twice had good looks from straight away.
"His jump shot is not his game," said Mavs forward Josh Howard, one of the many who tried to stay with James. "It would have been surprising, but he can make them. Both shots were long. He was on line, just not the right touch."
"I thought both of them were going down," he said.
The pregame buzz centered on the one visit of the season by King James. He may have been the best individual player on the floor, but the fourth-year phenom couldn't beat the best team in the league alone.
"That's the difference," Howard said. "They don't have any one who can create on their own. It's hard for him to take that many shots and then try to find guys and get them open."
Nowitzki, the West player of the month for February, doesn't have to carry arguably the deepest squad around. One of five in double figures, Nowitzki (24 points, 11 rebounds and seven assists) flirted with another triple double and did most of his damage in the fourth quarter.
James didn't disappoint with a compilation of reverses, fallaways and throw-downs adding up to 39 points.
But highlights don't always equal wins.